Benefits of Equine Therapy for Autism by Deborah Y. Strauss D.V.M

People who regularly interact with horses have been shown to reap benefits, such as decreased blood pressure, lower stress levels, and reduced feelings of anger and anxiety. Studies also show that you gain feelings of self-esteem, trust, empathy and patience.

The benefits of equine therapy are especially helpful for children and adults with certain medical conditions. As a complementary therapy, it has been used in the treatment plan of physical, psychological, social and educational disorders. Autism is one example.

How Does It Work?

Skilled therapists who specialize in equine therapy — sometimes in conjunction with specialized physical therapists — help children and adults with autism to have fun while developing valuable skills. All therapy is altered to fit the specific needs of each child or adult, but therapy usually includes grooming, riding and developmental games.

Physical Benefits

Riding a horse helps to develop coordination, strength and muscle tone. As the horse changes speed, direction and incline, the rider is required to constantly adjust their body to compensate. Controlling the reins helps with coordination, as well.

Sensory Benefits

The sounds and smells of the horse, the feeling of its fur, and feeling the changes in direction and speed when riding can all be positively stimulating to those with autism.

Emotional Bonding

In patients with autism, it’s common for emotional bonding to be difficult. Parents and other family members often say their loved one has difficulty making eye contact and expressing feelings. Learning to care for the horses creates an emotional bridge between emotion and providing care for another living being.

Cognitive and Language Development

Communicating with horses is sometimes “easier” for them than communicating with humans because they can communicate physically by brushing, petting, hugging and riding, as opposed to verbally. Following directions from the therapist and giving direction to the horse provides more opportunity for communication.

The therapy will also naturally improve cognitive concepts, especially through games as the therapy progresses. In many cases, parents and other family members notice improved social and communication skills, even after therapy has ended.

Final Thoughts

Equine therapy is unfortunately one of the most expensive therapies available for those with autism. Some programs cost around $5,000 annually. However, there are charitable programs through organizations that provide financial assistance to those in need.

We all want our loved ones to reach their full potential, and equine therapy could be one way to help yours blossom.