Horseback Riding for Autistic Adults: Does It Really Help?

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Benefits of Horseback Riding

The benefits of horseback riding for autistic adults may not be apparent at first. Surprisingly, adults with autism can gain a lot from riding on a horse. Physical benefits include improved balance and posture, hand-eye coordination, and even fine motor skills. But the emotional and social benefits far outweigh these. Adults with autism often have trouble forming relationships with others, but they may find it easier to form a relationship with a nonjudgmental horse. They can then channel this ability toward connecting with people as well.

The feeling of accomplishment that adults with autism feel when riding a horse successfully can also help them improve their own self-image and self-esteem. For many adults with autism, being on a horse gives them a sense of control over something much larger than them, which can be helpful when feel small and helpless. They can learn how to communicate with the horse, either verbally or through arm, leg, and torso movements, and this can transfer over to their being able to communicate with people as well. In addition, because may horseback riding sessions take place in a group setting, adults with autism may practice communicating with the rest of the group when feeling so in control of themselves and their horses.

Hippotherapy vs. Therapeutic Riding

There are two similar but different ways that autistic adults can benefit from horseback riding: hippotherapy and therapeutic riding. In order to perform hippotherapy, the instructor must be a physical or occupational therapist. The therapist runs a therapy session using a horse as a living, breathing, therapy tool. The therapy session has specific goals that the adult with autism needs to meet. Although this therapy can be extremely expensive (up to two hundred dollars per session), it may be covered by medical insurance.

Therapeutic riding, on the other hand, can be guided by anyone who understands the autistic adult’s needs and is comfortable around horses. These people are often volunteers, rather than professionals. Instead of going through various therapeutic exercises, the autistic adult is encouraged to learn about horses and become comfortable with them. Therapeutic riding is essentially horseback riding lessons for adults with autism. Lessons cost much less - usually under thirty dollars a session - and are often given in a group setting.

Examples of Horseback Riding Programs for Autistic Adults

Although many farms and similar locations have horseback riding lessons, it is important to find a program that targets autistic adults. Examples of these types of programs include Pegasus Farm in northeast Ohio, Safe Haven Farms in Dayton, and Morningstar Ranch in Arizona. These programs may differ from each other, with one of them being part of a residential home and another available only to people who live in the area. With the autism crisis looming, these programs may be more and more necessary in the coming years.


This post is part of the series: Horses and Autism

How can horses help children and adults with autism? This series discusses horse therapy and other situation in which horses can help kids and adults deal with autistic tendencies.

  1. The Benefits of Horse Therapy for Autistic Kids
  2. The Benefits of Horseback Riding for Autistic Adults