Therapy Information

Therapeutic Horseback Riding: Therapeutic horseback riding has its roots in Scandinavia and in Great Britain.  The North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) was established in 1969 and currently sets the national safety standards and guidelines for therapeutic horseback riding and other therapeutic equine activities in the United States, Canada and other countries.


What does Therapeutic HorseBack riding look like?  RideAbility began in 1997 with the goal of teaching children with disabilities to ride horses and to gain a sense of confidence and achievement in doing so.  RideAbility is a volunteer intensive effort that includes the combined efforts of horseowners, horseback riding instructors, physical therapists, occupational therapists and families.  Three volunteers are required per rider and help to keep the session safe.  One volunteer leads the horse.  Two volunteers act as sidewalkers.  The sidewalkers walk one on each side of the horse,  and they hold on to the student rider with an arm resting across the rider’s thigh or trunk to provide support and assist with balance as necessary.  The children served have a various range of disabilities including cerebral palsy, spina bifida, pervasive developmental disorder, Down’s Syndrome and many more.


What are some benefits of Therapeutic Horseback Riding?  Therapeutic horseback riding provides many beneficial experiences for children with special needs and disabilities.  The gentle and rhythmic pelvic motion of the horse translates up to the rider a pattern of movement in the trunk and pelvic that closely mimics normal human gait.  As a result excessive tone is often normalized allowing a greater range of motion in the rider.  Many children with tight and spastic muscles are able to tolerate the stretching better on horseback.  The normal straddled riding position for example provides a long sustained stretch to the adductors, a muscle group often tight in children with cerebral palsy.


Therapeutic horseback riding also provides a great opportunity for strengthening as well as improving balance reactions.  The turning, acceleration, and deceleration of the horse makes the participant learn to weight shift and contract different muscles of the trunk.  Balance can be further challenged with reaching, catching and throwing games as well as riding in different positions such as backward-facing.  Mounting and dismounting the horse help to strengthen the lower extremities.


Many sensory experiences are also to be had by a participant in therapeutic horseback riding.  These experiences include:  exposure to new textures as children stroke and help groom the horse; new proprioceptive inputs as a child rides with their hands on the saddle, gripping the reins or hugging the horse; and vestibular inputs as the horse changes directions, speed or the child changes positions on the moving horse.


This is an overview of the ‘GaitWay to the Brain‘ program

developed by ManeGait Therapeutic Horsemanship.   This video explains some of the training that our RideAbility instructor’s have completed.   We use this type of training to improve our therapeutic techniques at RideAbility.


Following are some special resources developed specifically for us (at RideAbility).   Please use these documents to benefit you and your family.

(Most of these items were contributed by students from the Mayo Clinic Health Sciences Physical Therapy program.)

Off season riding readiness is a common need for our riders – and here are some very effective demonstrations of stretches to keep our riders prepared for riders:

Exercises from Standing positions   

Exercises from Wheelchair positions       


Delayed OnSet Muscle Soreness is a common problem when trying new exercises, new movements and new opportunities in life!   Please look at the following links (documents) to get more information on how to stretch your body, or your child\’s body to help control the soreness caused by stretching:

DOMS Stretches for Children

DOMS Stretches for Horseback Riders

DOMS Stretches for Sidewalkers and Horse Leaders


Hand Stretches can be useful for any of us: before during or after riding horseback, in addition to other times in life.   Look through these hand stretches and see if you find something that helps you or your family.

Hand Stretches


A Student Goal-Setting Manual is being used by our RideAbility instructors.    You may notice ideas, organization, terminology and ways to group students together to plan for improved classes (both horseback riding skills and games).

Goal Setting Manual – Table of Contents

Goal Setting Manual – Content


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