Sensory trails are often utilized in therapeutic riding to provide a new perspective to clients and stimulate all the senses. Sensory trails combine natural and man-made elements that challenge a client’s balance, encourages interaction, and stimulates the senses. They offer a unique opportunity to experience the outdoors from atop a moving being.
Sensory trails often include natural elements like slopes, trees, varied footing, and nature sights and sounds. A sensory trail might not need any other activities if a rider is newly exposed to this environment. Just walking on uneven ground and up a hill can be plenty stimulating. Horses almost always move differently outside of the arena and a sensory trail can be engaging for the horse as well. The horse’s muscles will work differently and the horse will be mentally stimulated, giving the rider an exciting change.
Oftentimes, man-made activities are added to trails to provide more opportunities for sensory engagement. Sensory trails have a wide variety of activities, but some of the most commonly used ones are scent boxes, bridges, steering courses, and touch stations.
Scent boxes are wooden boxes with different objects inside with strong odors. These can be herbs and spices, citrus, hay, peppermint, and anything else that is easy to obtain and affordable. Clients can open a box and take out the item to sniff, or sniff through the box. Using lavender as an example, clients can smell lavender in the box or take it out and feel the plant. Scent boxes are very powerful for clients with sensory processing disorders and can be fun for all riders.
Steering courses and bridges allow riders to practice their skills outside of the arena. Having street signs helps riders understand life skills of stop signs, turn signs, and stop or go. Flags can help direct riders through twists and turns in the trail and riders need to use all their senses to successfully navigate the trail. A bridge or other obstacle provides a new sensation to riders accustomed to walking around an arena with smooth footing. Bridges often have a “clip-clop” sound when the horse crosses and may have a slight curve that challenges a rider’s balance.
Touch stations are similar to scent boxes but ask the rider to feel something. Sometimes this is done by having the rider ride through an object like ribbons or pool noodles. Touch stations can be anything that inspire riders to use their physical senses.
Many therapeutic riding centers have sensory trails, but if not, going outside of the arena for a loop around the barn can be a whole new experience for riders. Have more sensory trail activities to share? I’d love to hear them! Leave a comment below.
P.S. – sensory trails are wonderful in the summer because they often have a bit of shade in the trees or a breeze if an indoor arena is too warm.