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About Therapeutic Riding

In Therapeutic Riding and Hippotherapy the utilization of the horse and related exercises may seem similar, but the focuses and objectives are radically different.

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patients throwing balls for therapy

About Therapeutic Riding

We offer two types of therapy: Therapeutic Riding and Hippotherapy. The utilization of the horse and related exercises may seem similar, but their focuses and objectives are radically different.

Therapeutic Riding

The objective of Therapeutic Riding is to improve riding skills for disabled persons; this can be achieved through stretches, exercises and balance activities.

More about Therapeutic Riding

  • Adapted recreational horseback riding lessons.
  • Therapeutic riding is recreational horseback riding lessons adapted to individuals with disabilities.
  • It is completed by a certified therapeutic horseback riding instructor in conjunction with volunteers.
  • In Therapeutic Riding, the individual is often taught riding lessons in a group format, which runs in “sessions.” The instructor must respond to the group as a whole, in addition to fostering individual success.
  • There is occasional hands-on assistance by the riding instructor and/or volunteers, but the instructor usually teaches from the center of the arena.
  • Horse used for Therapeutic Riding instruction have been screened to make sure they have the appropriate temperament for this job.
  • In Therapeutic Riding, the emphasis is on proper riding position and reining skills, not functional therapeutic goals.
  • Because Therapeutic Riding is an adaptive/recreational sport/activity, it is not covered by insurance.


Hippotherapy seeks to decrease spasticity through positioning and weight bearing, increase range of motion, strength and endurance, and improve balance, mobility, head and trunk control.

More about Hippotherapy

  • Physical, Occupational or Speech Therapy. The movement of the horse is a treatment tool
  • Hippotherapy is not a horseback riding lesson; it is a physical, occupational or speech therapy, which is approved by a  physician and implmented by a team that includes a licensed, credentialed therapist.
  • Hippotherapy is implemented by a professional therapist (occupational therapist, physical therapist or speech language pathologist), in conjunction with a competent horse handler and a specially screen and trained therapy horse.
  • There is direct, hands-on, participation by the therapist at all times.
  • The horse’s movement is essential to assist in meeting therapy goals.
  • The horse’s movement stimulates the rider’s muscles to improve posture and trunk control.  The vestibular stimulation derived from riding promotes better balance and combined with input from muscles, tendons and joints, improves the rider’s sensory integration and organization. Constant adaptation to the horse’s speed, length of stride and the persistent need to adjust to gravitational and centripetal forces, helps the rider develop better balance,  midline orientation and righting reactions.

History of Therapeutic Riding

Therapeutic horsemanship is not a new idea. In fact it can be traced back to the Classical era when Greek and Roman texts discussed the relationship between horses and people. Between 460-377 BC, Hippocrates included riding in a chapter on “natural exercise” and in 1569, Huronymus Merkurialis of Italy wrote “The Art of Gymnastics,” discussing riding and its effects on the restoration and maintenance of health. It was not until the 1950’s, however, when this “relationship” between horses and people evolved into a therapeutic practice for people with disabilities, the idea of which is thought to have originated in England, Germany and Scandinavia. The benefits of therapeutic riding became apparent soon after on an international scale when a Danish rider, Liz Hartel won a silver medal in the Grand Prix Dressage at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. She had used horseback riding to rehabilitate herself from Polio, which had put her in a wheel chair.

The use of therapeutic riding for the disabled continued to grow in popularity. It took hold in the United States in the mid-1960s, developing the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) in 1969 in Middleburg, VA, with an international organization, the Federation for Riding for the Disabled International (FRDI) established soon after in the mid-1970s. The FDRI was incorporated in Belgium a few years later. The American Hippotherapy Association and the initiation of the first Hippotherapy Clinical Specialists (HPCS) examination followed in 1992 and 1999. July 2011 NARHA changed its name to Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) and promotes safe, ethical therapeutic equine activities and offers education, operating standards and facility and instructor certifications.