One of the reasons why horseback riding is therapeutic for me is that if I’m having a bad day, I always know that going out riding will make it that much better. I mean, even if I’m having a good day going riding makes it better, but you know what I mean!
Perhaps for that reason, recently a new riding discipline has emerged. It’s called ‘therapeutic riding’.
Today I wanted to delve a little bit into what therapeutic riding is. Then, I’ll take you through my perspective on three things that show why horseback riding is therapeutic more generally. Hopefully we’ll learn something together!
So what is therapeutic riding?
In my research, I’ve come across two commonly used forms of therapeutic riding. The first is therapeutic riding for physical therapy. The second is therapeutic riding for psychological therapy.
Therapeutic Riding as Physical Therapy
Let’s start by discussing therapeutic riding as a form of physical therapy.
First, let me say that ‘riding’ could be a bit of a misnomer here.
Therapeutic riding is a tool used in physical therapy for patients with disabilities or injuries. Sometimes patients won’t actually be riding, but rather will be doing activities while mounted.
These activities could be something like throwing and catching a ball, for example.
The aim is to improve patients’ core, pelvic and inner thigh muscles. As many riders know, these are key muscle groups that horseback riding targets.
Physiotherapists are discovering that even just sitting mounted on a horse can have huge benefits. These go above and beyond what exercise machines provide. Plus, many patients find that the experience of therapeutic riding is much more enjoyable than working on a machine – perhaps because of the psychological benefits, which we’ll talk about now.
Therapeutic Riding as Psychological Therapy
So while I was writing this article, I came across this article. It describes how horseback riding led to consistently improved PTSD scores among military veterans.
The veterans participated in a six week therapeutic riding program, but the results showed that even as early as three weeks into the program PTSD scores were improving.
That’s the basic goal of therapeutic riding, when it’s used for psychological therapy. To reduce negative mental health symptoms through regular interaction with horses.
In another (admittedly small) study published in 2015, researchers found that regular riding helped people to process traumatic events. It also helped to reduce overall anxiety levels.
I’m sure most riders aren’t surprised by this, knowing how good riding can make them feel. But there is a difference between simple mood boosting and treatment of a clinical condition like PTSD. I have to say, I am really impressed and pleased to hear that riding can do this.
Why Horseback Riding is Therapeutic
So clearly horseback riding can be really therapeutic for those who need specialised physical and psychological therapy.
But I thought it would be remiss of me not to talk about why horseback riding is therapeutic for everyone. No matter your skill level or the style of riding you do.
So here are my three reasons why I find horseback riding therapeutic.
Number One: It’s a Mood Booster
Any kind of physical exercise does wonders for your mood. It does this with the help of endorphins: hormones your body releases when you work out.
Horseback riding is no exception.
Depending on the style of riding you’re doing, it can be quite intense cardiovascular exercise. But even a ‘quiet’ day’s riding will engage so many of your muscles, and really get that blood pumping.
It’s hard for this not to have a great effect on your mood!
Number Two: It Lets You Get Out in Nature
For me, being in nature is such a good influence. I feel like I can breathe better. I feel so much lighter.
Going on a gorgeous trail ride helps you connect with nature, which has proven benefits for your mental health.
Even if you aren’t going out on the trails, the natural influence of the horses themselves is something I find really calming. Even being around the barn is really relaxing to me – it always takes my mind off the ‘real world.’
Number Three: Interacting with Horses (and friends at the barn) Eases Stress
In a similar vein, even aside from the influence of nature, spending time with animals is so good for you.
Humans are highly social creatures, and interacting with others (even equine companions) can meet many of our social needs.
I don’t know anyone who’s ever felt lonely around a horse. I know as soon as I started feeling down, mine would do something silly to get my attention. 90% cute, and 10% annoying – who even has time to feel lonely?
Plus, horseback riding is inherently social. You make friends at lessons, at the barns and at events. Maybe there will be some friendly competition between you, but horse friends have your back, and understand your life and priorities. Which are of course horse = #1!
Horseback Riding is so Therapeutic!
I hope you now agree with me about why horseback riding is therapeutic, and the various benefits it has.
Either way, you should let me know in the comments below if you have any questions or comments! What effect does going riding have on you?