Down Syndrome and Therapeutic Riding


Today, I am continuing our disabilities series today with Down Syndrome.

Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder that is commonly associated with developmental delays, poor muscle tone, and cognitive impairment. Early therapy interventions can have a positive impact on children with Down Syndrome. Therapeutic horseback riding may be one such intervention used to help with physical, cognitive, social, and behavioral issues.

Please note: therapeutic horseback riding is NOT therapy unless it is done under the supervision of a therapist in hippotherapy settings.

PATH Certified professionals are trained to work with the horse to positively impact clients with physical, emotional, behavioral, and/or cognitive disabilities. It is a good therapeutic option for clients with Down Syndrome because of the multiple benefits received in a single session.

Horseback riding improves balance, coordination, endurance, and core strength. Sitting astride a horse requires core strength to maintain balance and sit upright. A therapeutic riding lesson can last from 20-60 minutes, requiring endurance and muscle strength to stay on the horse. Riding also requires coordination of muscles and limbs to sit up, hold reins, use legs, cross the mid-line to stretch, turn head, and so much more. The physical aspect of horseback riding can have huge benefits for all clients, particularly clients with Down Syndrome with low muscle tone.

Therapeutic horseback riding requires a number of cognitive benefits, including spatial awareness, sequencing, and focused attention. Riders need to understand how far their horse is from another horse or from a barrel to reach a toy or circle a cone. Riders need to focus on their horse in order to accomplish a task. Riders often need to follow a sequence, whether it is a riding sequence such as “circle the cone and whoa at the barrel” or a riding command like “sit up tall and bring the reins to belly button to whoa.”

Horses also help with self-regulation, self-control, trust, and building confidence. Horses require certain behaviors around them in order to feel comfortable. Using the horse as the example, instructors and/or therapists can help show clients how to act at the barn and how to carry that in to other aspects of their life. Mastering horseback riding or working around a horse can be a huge confidence boost to riders and build their trust in themselves and others.

Many of these benefits apply to all clients, not just clients with Down Syndrome, but understanding these benefits can help tailor lesson plans to clients with Down Syndrome.

Was this helpful? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and check back next week for the next installment in the series!

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About Me

Hello! I am a PATH, Intl CTRI (certified therapeutic riding instructor) and ESMHL (equine specialist in mental health and learning). I am also a graduate student clinician in speech-language pathology.

This is my little arena where I will share my experience in equine assisted activities and my burgeoning knowledge in speech-language pathology.

I’m so happy to have you here!


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