Equine programs for autistic children use therapeutic horses to improve sensory processing, communication, and social interaction. Many children seem to be drawn to horses across the board, and a child with autism is no exception. Incorporating equestrian activities into a treatment plan can benefit many individuals on the autism spectrum.
Some of the most noticeable benefits include:
an emotional connection
Children are encouraged to not only ride, but to communicate with and care for the horse. Our therapy horses will not reject your child if they act differently or make loud noises or sudden, abrupt movements.
Our therapy horses give children on the spectrum a chance to experience the role of a caregiver. For many children with autism, learning to care for a horse provides an opportunity to experience a range of new feelings that help forge a strong emotional connection. This bond can help improve social and communication skills when your child interacts with family members and therapists.
If your child has difficulty adjusting to new sensory experiences, working with an equine companion allows them to have a nurturing environment where they can work toward developmental milestones without risk to themselves or to the therapy horse.
occupational & physical therapy
To stay seated on a horse involves both fine and gross motor skills; a single equine therapy session provides:
Sensory feedback (from the motion of the horse)
Muscle development (from adjusting the body to stay in the saddle)
Fine motor control (holding the reins and directing the horse).
The horse’s movements provide sensory feedback from muscles and joints, and stimulates muscles as your child learns to make adjustments and work with the animal as it moves.
Performing other tasks while seated on horseback can further improve fine motor skills and motor planning, as your child has to constantly adjust to remain upright.
The specific commands used, the gestures, and motions used to convey the desired movement or action to a horse also function as valuable skill builders.
One of the main benefits of equine therapy programs is the many opportunities to practice communication and language, from talking about caring for the horse to giving direct instructions to the animal itself.
Your child can learn to give basic directions to the horse and feel a sense of accomplishment when the horse follows those directions.
This cause and effect can help your child understand the importance of verbal communication. This way, your child’s first overtures of friendship and companionship are accepted and reinforced.
‘My daughter is diagnosed with Autism and recently participated in a half-day session at Belisi. The group leaders were very friendly and well organised. The rules were explained at the start and I was able to watch in the spectator’s area. We didn’t need to stay but I did not feel comfortable leaving yet. The professionalism that was displayed by the staff and how they engaged with the children was a delight. The staff were able to provide extra attention to those that needed it without the children being aware. My daughter wanted to stay for the second half of the day and the staff said she could. I have never seen my daughter smile and concentrate so hard. She did hesitate to perform some tasks, however, instead of excluding her from the task they modified it for her so that she was included and part of the group. Not only is this something she loves, it gets her outdoors, exercising and making friendships and building her self-confidence.’