Equine therapy

I want to share my experience with horse therapy. I have been participating in horse therapy for over a year. It is amazing! Initially, I was skeptical as I have balance problems and dizziness. (I have SCA8). Essentially it is learning to ride. The lesson includes a teacher and someone leading the horse, as well as walkers on each side for spotting or support. You may advance to not need this or you may always need this support.

It was very tiring at first and I felt very dizzy after the first ride. However after only a few lessons, I noticed a significant difference in my dizziness as well as balance was improved. I did not have a need for a cane for much of the time when I was riding regularly.

The facility is PATH certified, which means the teachers are trained in therapeutic riding for all levels of disability. Some riders are wheelchair bound, or severely cognitively disabled. Others may be stroke survivors or suffer from PTSD.

Some things I have learned: the horse’s gait closely mimics the human gait and is therefore beneficial to help balance. (I’m not sure of the exact science but I can attest this is the case); gait is closely associated with speech so riding can improve speech (toddlers typically explode with verbal skills once they start walking), this is why it is useful for stroke patients who are rehabilitating for speech. The movement of the horse sets off certain neural pathways that facilitate speech. Riding creates a great feeling of accomplishment. In my daily life, I struggle with feelings of uselessness and I suffer from chronic pain along with the loss of balance and increasing difficulty speaking. When I ride, that all goes away and the small accomplishments with learning to ride feel so good. Lastly, i have developed a deep connection with the animal, and an appreciation for the horse’s ways. This is an unexpected benefit.

I reccomend the book “Lead With Your Heart. Lessons From a Life Wih Horses” by Allan Hamilton, MD (neurosurgeon).

I am a city gal and have not been raised around horses or had any experience with horses beyond the occasional trail ride as a kid. I could go on and on about my feelings but I
just I hope that people who have ataxia will begin to consider this option to improve their lives. It is making a big difference in mine.

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Incredible how we can engage a capacity within to move forward through the acceptance of a horse or dog. Good for you! Ride girl, ride! Go win some ribbons! JD

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