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What is Adaptive Riding?

1. Did You Know?


You may have heard phrases like Equine Assisted Learning or Adaptive Riding…but what do they mean? In general, both of these methods are therapeutic ways of interacting with horses for the human’s mental, emotional, and physical benefit. However, each style of engagement does have different purposes, outcomes, and populations that are served.

What: Adaptive riding is a riding lesson adapted for individuals with special needs taught by horseback riding instructors. This activity is recreationally based and goals may address leisure, education, socialization, competition in the sport, and fitness. It is not the goal of the instructor to rehabilitate, but rather to improve riding skills and quality of life through participation in an enjoyable activity.” (American Hippotherapy Association). The purpose is primarily recreation, though those who engage with it will often have therapeutic benefits. The method is generally riding based and utilizes teams of volunteers to help lead the horse and support the rider as needed. Courageous Connections offers group classes from 2-4 Riders.

History: Adaptive riding serves populations who can benefit from riding and interactions with horses while at the same time improving life skills. From a physical standpoint these benefits include improvements in core strength, balance and overall motor skill coordination. There are also emotional and relationship building benefits as well, such as increasing self-esteem and confidence while learning to be a kind yet effective leader and partner

Who: The primary population for adaptive riding is those with special needs and/or mental health challenges such as Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, trauma/ PTSD, MS, “at-risk” youth, among others. Practitioners are not required to be trained as a physical, occupational, and/or speech-language therapist. Instructors are trained and certified in order to teach Adaptive Riding. Volunteers are a crucial to riding programs because one rider may need up to three volunteers, in addition to the instructor.

Where: Sessions are often arena-based with the use of obstacles commonly seen to help the rider with their goals. Riding outside the typical arena may be more common depending on the program’s policies and specialized equipment (i.e. mounting block wheelchair ramp) may be present but isn’t necessary.

Last time we explored Equine Assisted Learning click here if you missed it.

About Brenda Cole – Contributing Author:

Brenda holds a Bachelors of Science (BS) degree in Natural Horsemanship with a focus area in Psychology, and my Bachelors of Arts (BA) in Literature and Writing along with a Masters of Science (MS) in Counseling. She completed her Masters at Prescott College in 2017

Adaptive Riding (sometimes called Therapeutic Riding)

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Marysville, WA

Serving Snohomish,

King & Skagit Counties