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Horses therapy

How Horses Can Help People With Learning Disabilities

A child riding a horse

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Many people enjoy horse riding, and choose to have their own horses. But you might not know that there are many psychological and physical health benefits to equestrian activities. We’ve asked Katie Allen-Clarke from Horse & Country TV to come over to Pets Mag and take us through all the ways that horses can be therapeutic.

Horses and humans have had a long and enduring connection, with many people estimating that the use of horses dates back 6,000 years. However, more recently it has been recognised that the partnership between horses and people can go beyond work and leisure, to provide educational and therapeutic benefits you might not know about.

Equine Facilitated Education and Therapy (EFET) can be a great choice for many people. It is a form of therapy that allows budding horse enthusiasts to learn and develop through horses. It involves horse riding, looking after horses, and learning in practical settings. This form of therapy can benefit many individuals, but particularly those with learning disabilities. 

Here are some of the many things that EFET can provide support and learning for.

Building confidence with horses

Working with horses can be a major confidence booster, for many different reasons. Even just spending time with such a large, powerful animal and being in control can show many people their own potential to accomplish things in the world. The Riding for the Disabled Association found that 77% of people they have worked with thought their confidence had improved.

Horses also provide instant feedback on your actions, so you can see instantly when you do something good, such as stroking them or giving them the right command. This is great for making people feel more confident and capable. 

Reducing anxiety through horse riding

There is a lot of evidence that physical exercise and movement can reduce anxiety, and horse riding and looking after horses is no exception. The physical movement of horse riding helps people concentrate on their actions and their bodies, and the exercise relieves some of the bodily tension that builds up through anxiety. 

Completing tasks and learning how the tack room, stable, and arena are organised and looked after, also helps people to feel in control and take on bigger practical problems.

Improving movement and cognitive function

As well as reducing anxiety, being around and riding horses can be helpful for people with learning disabilities as it improves movement and cognitive function. This is because when you ride horses, you practice balance, and develop muscles that you don’t use much in everyday life. The physical benefits also extend to building muscle strength and improving posture.

Riding and looking after horses also provides a safe environment for many people with learning disabilities, in which they can practice responding to others and what is happening around them. This can improve reactions and hand-eye coordination.

Developing social skills around horses

Spending time with horses can also help people with learning disabilities to explore and develop social skills. In fact, the Riding for the Disabled Association found that 68% of the people they worked with felt that they had improved their communication

Giving instructions to horses and building relationships with individual animals gives people a wealth of opportunities to build their communication abilities. Making friends not only with horses, but the helpers in the sessions, gives people a community and social support as well as physical exercise. 

Spending time with horses and exploring EFET can help people with learning disabilities reap all the benefits of the relationship between humans and horses. Whilst people have enjoyed horse riding and keeping horses recreationally for many years, there are so many psychological, physical and social positives of working with horses as well.