Horse-assisted Therapy: Everything You Need To Know!

In horse-assisted therapy, horses are used to achieve the various rehabilitation goals of the patient. It can be helpful for children with autism, Rett syndrome and cerebral palsy, among others. Find out more in our article today!
Horse-assisted therapy: everything you need to know!

The therapeutic options for people with a disorder or disability are becoming more and more diverse. Horse-assisted therapy is a helpful approach to improving quality of life for patients .

While this approach is not new, it is more important than it used to be. On the one hand, with this type of alternative treatment, patients get to know themselves better. On the other hand, this treatment improves personal development and quality of life.

In the horse-assisted therapy (Equine Assisted Therapy, EAT) the horses are the focus. Studies show that this therapy helps people with different clinical pictures. for example, patients with autism spectrum or cerebral palsy. However, these are just a few examples. Do you want to know more about it? Who invented this approach? For whom is it suitable? Are there different methods within the EAT? Read on to find out!

Man and horse

What is horse assisted therapy?

EAT, also known as horse therapy or riding therapy, is a great alternative for people with disabilities. For example with some kind of disability or mental development disorder. An example of this is autism.

The aim is to help patients in their mental, physical, emotional, social and / or professional development. This can be achieved through a series of exercises, games and activities with horses. The well-being and quality of life of the patients in general can also be improved.

During an EAT session, the patient can ride, brush, stroke, or feed the horse. He can also play with the horse or do other activities. Each patient receives a customized treatment. More precisely, it depends on its physical and psychological characteristics. Therefore, the treatment allows him to get the most of working with the horse.


The practice of horse assisted therapy goes back to the ancient Greeks. They recommended riding for the prevention and healing of physical and mental ailments.

Formal practice of horse assisted therapy began in Mexico in 1969. More specifically, a coach at the Mexican Olympic Athletic Center named Rogelio Hernandez Huerta is believed to be the original inventor. In the same year the first specialized center for equine therapy was founded, as well as the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA), whose task it is to coordinate and officially recognize centers and individuals that offer equine therapy.

Who is this therapy suitable for?

As already mentioned, horse-assisted therapy is suitable for people with a physical or mental disability. However, it can help with other types of problems as well. To find out more, just read on. EAT is suitable for both children and adults . Health professionals most often recommend equine therapy for people with the following conditions:

  • Disabilities (physical, mental or sensory)
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g. autism)
  • Social adjustment problems
  • Other types of diseases

Riding therapy can be particularly useful for people with autism. It also helps patients with cerebral palsy or Rett syndrome, spinal and / or brain injuries, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, etc. In any case, the therapist makes the appropriate adjustments to the activities and therapy goals to the needs of the patient.

The benefits of horse-assisted therapy

Various psychological and physical benefits of horse-assisted therapy have been proven by studies.

The main psychological benefits are:

  • Improvement in self-esteem
  • Better emotional self-control
  • Improving Self-Confidence
  • Stimulation of memory and attention
  • Promote respect for nature and animals

Some of the physical benefits of equine therapy are:

  • better muscle development and balance
  • force
  • Muscle tone
  • Motor skills
  • coordination
  • Perseverance etc.

Horse Assisted Therapy and Autism

As we have mentioned several times, horse assisted therapy is great for children with autism. A study by Perez, et al. (2008) found that equine therapy offers four types of stimulation for young patients: vestibular (linguistic), proprioceptive (relating to perception), tactile (relating to the sense of touch) and motor (movement sequences).

Another study by De La Prieta (2017) found that the heat and vibrations that the horse emits, as well as its three-dimensional movements, can stimulate nerve structures. This is helpful for the development of the patient.

The 2015 study by Delgado and Sanchez (2015) published in Mediciego found that children with autism can develop an emotional connection with horses. Riding also gives them a sense of security. This has a positive effect on their self-esteem.

Child in horse-assisted therapy

Types of equine therapy

There are different directions within horse-assisted therapy. Here are some of the most popular:

  • Therapeutic riding : exercises are performed on the horse. This can improve balance and coordination.
  • Hippotherapy: In this form of EAT, the patient does physiotherapy exercises. He does these exercises both with and on horseback. The aim is to use the heat transferred by the horse as well as the rhythmic and three-dimensional movement of the horse. All of this helps the patient.
  • Horse Assisted Learning (EAL): EAL is very popular. It consists of adapting the patient to the horse. Furthermore, everything that has to do with the care of a horse. Among other things, it can increase motivation. It also improves emotional expression and concentration.
  • Adaptive Riding: This is suitable for people with different disabilities who already practice horse riding. The goal is to adapt the sport to the needs of the patient.

In summary, horse assisted therapy is a therapeutic tool with undeniable benefits. This means it is a great alternative treatment for children with autism and other diseases or disorders.

However, it is also suitable for adults. The variety of options makes them suitable for people with all kinds of problems. The person accompanying the patient during treatment should always be a qualified and recognized professional. Usually she is a specialized physical therapist.


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