Five ways horse riding can help people with disabilities

Katie Allen-Clarke, Head of Marketing at Horse & Country, shares five benefits of horse riding that may be of interest to you if yourself or a loved one has a learning disability.

Horse riding is a fantastic hobby that everyone should consider trying at least once. It’s a lot of fun, and it can simultaneously be both a relaxing and an exciting activity to experience. So, there are already plenty of reasons why somebody with a learning disability should take up the reins. 

But in more recent years, it has been commonly accepted in the medical field that horse riding has a whole host of additional benefits beyond leisure, including help with learning, practicing social interaction, improving physical health, and developing cognitive skills. 

If you have a learning disability and you’re looking for a new hobby, or you want to know if horse riding is right for someone with a learning disability, here are five key benefits of the activity.

1) Confidence building

Horse riding can present those with learning disabilities, particularly those with mobility issues, a huge sense of independence and freedom, which in turn can boost confidence.

The countryside isn’t always a naturally accessible place, but on horseback it’s much easier to navigate this terrain. What’s more, learning how to ride a horse and develop a bond with it takes time, so doing so successfully can really feel like an achievement and build self-confidence even further. 

2) Reducing anxiety

If you or a loved one suffers from even the most severe forms of anxiety, there are plenty of elements of riding that can help reduce heart rate and blood pressure. On a macro level, sitting on a horse can help to stimulate mind and muscle responses which is very soothing.

Coupled with the sensory experience of being outdoors in nature with the wind in your hair, sun on your face, and the sounds and smells of the environment around you, horse riding really can help with your mood and mental health. Horses are (generally!) very quiet creatures, so are great companions for those who get overstimulated easily.

3) Cognitive function

Learning how to ride a horse presents a series of new yet easy to overcome challenges, which keeps the brain working and can help improve cognitive function.

Even when for the most confident riders, being on horseback requires you to be alert, focussed, and adaptable, all of which are great skills to practice. Physically, controlling your breathing can also work wonders for brain activity. 

4) Social skills 

Whether you or a loved one struggles with social skills or you just want to develop them further, interacting with animals is often a great way to practice. There are no complicated language or communication systems in place, and while horses do all have distinct personalities, their cues can be much easier to follow than humans’ and their preferences easier to discern. Developing bonds with animals can also help combat loneliness. 

Another thing to remember is that there’ll be plenty of regular interaction with a horse-riding trainer or the equine therapist who is teaching you or your loved one how to ride, and they’ll be helping to take care of the horse before and after the session too. Group lessons are another great opportunity for social learning, as riders can often bond over shared experiences or learnings in a lesson.

5) Physical benefits

Not everyone will automatically consider horse riding to be good exercise, but there are very clear benefits it can have for things like core strength and cardiovascular health. Muscle tone, flexibility, and balance can all be improved with regular riding, which is great for everyone, but for those with disabilities who may have difficulty or even be reluctant to keep up their fitness in other ways, it can really make a difference to your overall health.

As well as keeping fit during the ride, horse care activities such as grooming, yard maintenance, or putting the horse’s tack on are important steps that can keep the blood pumping too.

There are plenty of reasons why interacting with horses might benefit you or a loved one, but here are just five of the best. Whether it’s the excitement of riding or the therapeutic benefits of horse care, try looking up local stables and see if equine therapy is right for you or someone you know.

Photo by Lisa Lyne Blevins