The Benefits of Horseback Riding for the Autistic Population

The Benefits of Horseback Riding for the Autistic Population

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects the development of the brain. Individuals with Autism tend to have difficulties with verbal and non-verbal communication, sensory processing, and understanding or reading social cues. Some children may have difficulty concentrating on tasks, making and maintaining eye contact, completing basic skills such as eating, dressing, brushing their teeth or bathing.

When a child is diagnosed with autism, they are often referred to receive behavior analytic interventions, speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy. However, horseback riding has been making waves as a treatment tool to help individuals accomplish therapeutic objectives. 

Horseback riding benefits one’s balance, strength and motor coordination. It has also been proven to be effective in promoting language, sensory regulation as well as improving social skills as students often form an emotional bond with the horses they ride on. This then motivates children to perform skill-building tasks. 

A study conducted by Bass, Duchowny and Llabre in 2009, showed that children who rode horses as therapy showed improvements in several social skills after 12 weeks of therapy. The researchers found that the children became more socially motivated and improved in sensory seeking and sensitivity.  Most children with autism are unable to integrate their sense and understand how their bodies relate to the external world. Horseback riding is a great way to help a child gain a sense of body-awareness while improving sensory integration.

Some other benefits of horseback riding with autistic population include:

• Relaxing tight muscles 

• Building muscle strength 

• Improving fine motor coordination 

• Sharpening hand/eye coordination 

• Improvements in Posture & Flexibility 

• Improving Communication (improving one’s ability to breathe makes it easier for a person to speak)

• Gaining self-control

• Gaining self-confidence

• Improving concentration 

• Improving concentration (especially for those who have difficulty staying on task with activities)

• Improving socialization (Aspen, 2011) 

Some may wonder how horseback riding can be used to encourage speech in a child; however, during a typical session the rider is motivated to communicate with both the instructor and the horse. It has been noted that non-verbal autistic children suddenly begin to speak when they are prompted to use the horse’s name or are asked to get the horse moving.

Horseback riding gives children with autism a sense of themselves and their bodies while increasing their contact and interaction with the surrounding world. A child’s self-confidence will increase once they have formed a sense of competence by learning how to interact and work with their horse.  It should be noted that horseback riding is not only a program for the autistic population, but has multiple benefits for children, adolescents and adults who suffer from other intellectual or developmental disabilities.


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