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Equine Assisted Activities.

Welcome to the first edition of Humans, Horses and Health, PALAESTRA's newest Department! Contact with horses offers an exciting opportunity for individuals with disabilities to find quality of life through therapy, sport, and recreation.

There is a long history of how the horse has enhanced the lives of men, women, and especially children with special needs. There is reference to riding as a physical activity dating back to Hippocrates in ancient Greece in his chapter on "Natural Exercise." Liz Hartel, who won a silver medal in the Helsinki Olympics, demonstrated to the world that riding helped her recover from polio. In the 1960s riding centers were developed in Europe and North America. The term hippotherapy was coined at that time as an adjunct to physical therapy in Switzerland, Germany, and Austria.

In 1969 The North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) was formed and has been gaining momentum ever since. Other organizations such as The Equine Facilitated Mental Health Association (which is a section of NARHA), Equine Growth and Leaning Association, The American Hippotherapy Association, The Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association, and The Federation of Riding for the Disabled International also deal with equine activities.

Equine Assisted Activities are widespread throughout North America. There are 692 member centers of NARHA serving over 35,000 individuals with special needs ranging from children as young as two years of age to people well past retirement age. A large majority of these centers are non-profit organizations relying on over 2,600 NARHA certified instructors, over 1,000 health professionals (physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and mental health professionals), over 26,000 trained volunteers, and nearly 6,000 specially screened equines.

Participants with a wide range of diagnoses or challenges can benefit from Equine Assisted Activities, including:

* Muscular Dystrophy

* Cerebral Palsy

* Visual Impairment

* Down Syndrome

* Emotional Disabilities

* Spinal Cord Injuries

* Learning Disabilities

* Deafness

* Intellectual Disabilities

* Autism Spectrum Disorders

* Multiple Sclerosis

* Spina Bifida

* Brain Injuries

* Amputations

* Attention Deficit Disorder

* Cardiovascular Accident/ Stroke

Multiple benefits can arise from Equine Assisted Activities:

* Tone

* Coordination

* Symmetry

* Mobility

* Behavior

* Balance

* Sensory Motor Function

* Postural Control

* Communication

* Attention

* Self-esteem

Terminology used to define the various activities involving a person with special needs and a horse can be a source of confusion. Riding, driving, vaulting, groundwork, lessons, and a variety of therapies all are available. Credentials of the individual or center conducting the activity also determine what the activity can be called. Using the right term can be a challenge.

In this first Department article we will start by defining current areas of activities that are established as defined by NARHA. Future articles will be more in depth on various topics.

Equine Assisted Activities

Equine Assisted Activities (EAA) is the umbrella term inclusive of all the various offerings of NARHA centers and all of the equine activities and therapies designed for people with disabilities or diverse needs. This term is accurately used for making global statements about NARHA center activities involving participants. For example, a NARHA center offering therapeutic riding, vaulting, and hippotherapy can say they offer equine assisted activities.

Therapeutic Horsemanship

Therapeutic Horsemanship (TH) means equine activities organized and taught by knowledgeable and skilled instructors to people with disabilities or diverse needs. Students progress in equestrian skills while improving their cognitive, emotional, social, and behavioral skills. This can be further broken down into the specific activity. Currently NARHA includes Therapeutic Riding, Interactive Vaulting, Therapeutic Driving, and Competition under this category.

Therapeutic Riding

Therapeutic Riding (TR) involves mounted activities including traditional riding disciplines or adaptive riding activities conducted by a NARHA certified instructor. The focus of TR is to teach riding skills. Although not therapy, it does provide therapeutic benefit on many levels.

Interactive Vaulting

Interactive Vaulting (IV) incorporates horsemanship activities, movements around, on, and off the horse or barrel, and gymnastic positions on the back of the horse at the walk, trot, or canter. Interactive vaulting offers educational, social, creative, and movement opportunities for a varied population.

Therapeutic Driving

Therapeutic Driving (TD) includes activities related to carriage driving. Following NARHA standards for driving conducted by a NARHA certified instructor can be considered equine assisted therapy if driving activities are incorporated by a therapist into a treatment plan. Additionally, drivers with disabilities may participate in competition.


Competition involves individual or team sports at the local, regional, national, or international level. Integrated or specialized competition can be breed- or activity-based. This area of EAA is rapidly growing in both participation and recognition with national organizations such as the United States Equestrian Team and the American Quarter Horse Association expanding their offerings for riders with disabilities.

Equine Assisted Therapy

Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT) is defined as treatment incorporating equine activities and/or the equine environment. Rehabilitative goals are related to the patient's needs and the medical professional's standards of practice. Currently NARHA includes Hippotherapy and Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy under this category.


Hippotherapy (HPOT) is a physical, occupational, or speech therapy (PT, OT, or SLP) treatment strategy utilizing equine movement. This strategy is used as part of an integrated treatment program to achieve functional outcomes. The focus of HPOT is not teaching riding skills. The PT, OT, or SLP manipulates the movement of the equine and designs activities specifically to improve independence in activities of daily living such as sitting, dressing, feeding, and walking.

Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy

Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP) is experiential psychotherapy including equine(s). It may include, but is not limited to, a number of mutually respectful equine activities such as handling, grooming, lunging, riding, driving, and vaulting. EFP is facilitated by a licensed/credentialed mental health professional working with and/or as an appropriately credentialed equine professional. Although EFP may encompass many different activities, the activities themselves are not the goal; rather, these activities assist reaching the psychotherapy goals set by the mental health professional.

This is just a brief overview of all the various activities included under the umbrella term equine assisted activities. In future issues, we will elaborate in detail concerning each of these subjects. You can look forward to input from experts in each field, as well as specific examples of what is involved in each area. We will also provide you with sources for additional information if you are interested in taking advantage of the resources in your area. As the field of Equine Assisted Activities continues to grow and evolve, we will also share information concerning those topics. Look for us in your next issue of PALAESTRA!

Humans, Horses, and Health is a regular department of PALAESTRA which addresses materials related to equine assisted activities. Marci Bender is a NARHA Advanced Level Certified Instructor and a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist. She is an Instructor at Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center in Woodinville, WA. Steve McKenzie is a NARHA Registered Level Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor. Steve is a Staff Physical Therapist at Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center in Woodinville, WA. He currently serves as the Chair of the NARHA Health and Education Committee. Both can be reached at;; or 425-882-1554. Marci and Steve are the Department co-editors.
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Title Annotation:Humans, Horses and Health
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2006
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Next Article:Brill, Patricia A. (2004). Functional Fitness for Older Adults.

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