Therapeutic Horseback Riding for Autistic Kids


Hayley just started her Spring Session of Therapeutic Riding at “Riding with HEART” (Hunterdon Equine Assisted Recreation and Therapy).  She attended the Fall Session and just loved it.

Katie is an equestrian and has ridden for about 16 years.  In addition to years of lessons, Katie has competed and done very well in many, many shows.  Katie also rode for the Villanova Equestrian Team as an Undergraduate, a team she helped found.  She also rode alumni as well.  All those years attending show after show, Hayley HATED horses.  She would yell and scream and roll on the ground.  We couldn’t get her within 10 feet of a horse.  I knew there was therapeutic riding close by our house but I never considered signing Hayley up because of her dislike of horses.

One Saturday last spring, Dave went to a local farm to order mulch and he took Hayley with him.  On the farm they have 2 Clydesdale horses, Lucy and Walter.  Hayley knew the horses names because almost daily we pass by the farm and I would say “say hi to Lucy and Walter!”.  Dave pulled into Alice and Richard’s driveway, let Hayley out of the car and she immediately ran to and climbed on the fence saying both horse’s name.  Alice, Richard and Dave came over and Alice called the horses to the fence so Hayley could pet them.  Hayley did, but started saying “on horse, on horse”.  Alice brought her into the paddock and lifted her on beautiful, white Lucy.  Dave immediately called me on the cell phone to tell me Hayley was actually on a horse, I didn’t believe it.  Dave said as soon as Hayley sat on the horse, a look of total bliss came over her face.  He wanted to cry.  Alice and Dave on one side and Richard on the other side walked Hayley around the paddock 3 times, she didn’t want to get off!  Dave brought her home and I hugged her and asked about riding the horse.  Hayley said “ride Lucy”, I was so very proud of her.

We took Hayley to visit Lucy and Walter on occasion during the summer and she enjoyed brushing them and feeding the horses hay. I decided that I would sign her up for the fall session of therapeutic riding. I signed  Hayley up for an Autism Social Skills Group.  There are 5 other autistic kids in the group.  Each child gets an aide to help them through the lesson, plus there are plenty of additional volunteers to help if needed. The kids do a greeting, play a game, groom the horses and then ride.

It was so much fun bringing Hayley to the Horse supply store and getting her fitted for riding boots.  She then got to pick out special pants and socks.  Hayley looked adorable.  She was so excited and would put her boots on everyday hoping that that was the day she was going to ride.

Hayley’s school teacher made up a chart for us showing Hayley what the progression was going to be.  Dress in horse riding clothes – greeting & game – grooming – riding – home.  Hayley needs these visual reminders of what is going to happen and when.  The first day Hayley tantrumed and screamed because she wanted to get right on the horse and not do anything else.  Finally, after 20 minutes she calmed down and they got her on the horse “Patrick” a really handsome white, gentle horse.  Hayley had the biggest smile I had ever seen while being led around the ring.  When it came time to get off the horse, yes! another major tantrum.  As the weeks went by, Hayley became acclimated to the schedule and did extremely well.

Once the session was over, Hayley continued to come home from school on Monday’s and want to get into her riding gear.  I assured her we would sign up again in the Spring.  Now whether she understood or not, she finally stopped asking for “horse”.

Last month I signed Hayley up for the Fall Session and it started yesterday.  She was very excited getting dressed, putting her riding clothes on.  When we got there, Hayley wanted to ride immediately, MAJOR tantrum!  She screamed and screamed, kept trying to run away etc.  It was upsetting of course, because of her severe behavioral problems, Hayley was the ONLY autistic child there tantruming and being held back.  If I let go, she would have run to a horse and start picking up one of their legs, why she does this to animals, I don’t know.  I do know doing this to a horse is dangerous.  Finally the aide took over, Hunter and I were sitting in the car reading and could hear Hayley’s screams bouncing off all the walls.  Eventually they all came outside to ride the horses.  As I watched, Hayley refused to get on “Patrick” and was once again, screaming and rolling on the ground.  No one knows how very tiring and upsetting this is.  Everyone, and I am talking parents of autistic kids were staring and shaking their heads.

I was beckoned over by the trainer and with head held high, I walked past all the parents and up to Hayley and spoke to her for 5 minutes.  She finally calmed down and got on the horse.  From then on, Hayley had the best time being led around the ring, a beautiful smile on her face.  Iam hoping that next week there will be less screaming and yelling.

When you have a child with Autism you cannot predict each day.  What they are happy with one day, they are angry about the next day.  A parent tries all they can to help their child and try to bring some sense of normalcy.  These kids know more than you think but just can’t communicate their feelings or needs.

Some of the benefits of Therapeutic Riding are:

Eye/hand coordination – Balance – Muscle strength – Socialization – Body awareness – Self-control – Self-confidence – Problem solving – Fine motor coordination – Sensory integration and Communication.


One response to “Therapeutic Horseback Riding for Autistic Kids

  1. julie tepper

    Love the “head held up high” part…YOU GO!!!! Would love to see a pic of that smile when she’s riding 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s