In prior posts, I have commented on how I have been inspired by clients and have learned so much. This past weekend I had the opportunity to watch a young client take a riding lesson at Dream Catchers near Williamsburg, Virginia. Dream Catchers is the premier therapeutic riding center between Richmond and Virginia Beach. Students who participate in their programs have an array of disabilities, including traumatic brain injury, paralysis, autism and cerebral palsy. The instructors are certified by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association. When I watched Tori ride in the magnificent indoor ring (because it was raining) with several instructors and volunteers, you could see that she was enjoying the activity and they were attentive to her needs. This 11-year-old girl is shown feeding carrots to the large Tennessee Walking Horse that she rides and also with her proud lawyer outside.
The physical benefits of therapeutic riding are derived from the gait of the horse, which resembles a human’s natural walking movement. No machine or exercise equipment can simulate all these natural body movements at once. Most riders see increases in muscle tone, improved flexibility and range of motion. The rider must adjust his or her posture to stay balanced on a horse, so equilibrium reactions are stimulated which help with balance, orientation, and body awareness. After a session at Dream Catchers, the core muscles used for balance are exhausted and gains in strength and proprioception are achieved.