Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that can cause difficulty staying focused and controlling impulsive behavior. It is a very common and may be a stand-alone diagnosis or a coexisting condition, typically diagnosed along with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
People with ADHD can be easily distracted, have trouble sitting still, and difficulty waiting their turn. These tendencies fit well with some of the benefits therapeutic riding or equine-assisted activities can provide.
Mounted or unmounted lessons might be a good fit for clients with ADHD, but I will concentrate on mounted lessons here. Horseback riding requires focus and a centered core. The constant movement of the horse can engage the rider’s mind and keep them mentally focused on a task while the body is moving. A quick movement of the horse can be used to bring a rider back on task, like a sharp turn or a short trot. These tools are harder to replicate in a school or therapy setting.
In a group lesson, riders will need to wait to mount or dismount. They will need to wait to trot or wait for the instructor’s attention. They may need to be patient with their horse if the horse doesn’t respond instantly (pick your horse wisely for your rider). Riders cannot bounce on their horse and need to sit quietly with their seat, legs, and hands in order to ride. All of these small behaviors that are necessary for horseback riding can translate to continued behavior off the horse.
Horses are a behavior mirror. Riders can learn to self-regulate by the horse’s reaction. If a rider comes in bouncing down the aisle, flapping their arms, or yelling, the horse will probably want to leave. Showing riders correct behavior and the horse’s instant response can help riders learn how to behave at the barn and elsewhere.
Choosing the right horse for your rider is extremely important for riders with ADHD or any person with compulsive, eruptive behavior. Instructors may want a horse that responds to a rider’s behavior, or it may be better to have a horse that is less responsive. A short-strided horse may be a good fit for choppier movements that require more balance. A big horse may calm a rider just by its size. Evaluate each rider independently for the horse and remember that a diagnosis cannot tell you everything you need to know about your rider.
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