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What are equine-assisted activities and therapies?

CW-Canon-EOS-5D-Mark-II-150423-6020“Throughout the world, hundreds of thousands of individuals with and without special needs experience the rewarding benefits of equine-assisted activities and therapies (EAAT). A physical, cognitive or emotional special need does not limit a person from interacting with horses. In fact, such interactions can prove highly rewarding. For instance, experiencing the rhythmic motion of a horse can be very beneficial. Riding a horse moves the rider’s body in a manner similar to a human gait, so riders with physical needs often show improvement in flexibility, balance and muscle strength.

Whether it’s a five-year-old with Down syndrome, a 45-year-old recovering from a spinal cord injury, a senior citizen recovering from a stroke or a teenager struggling with depression, research shows that individuals of all ages who participate in EAAT can experience physical and emotional rewards. For individuals with emotional challenges, the unique relationship formed with the horse can lead to increased confidence, patience and self-esteem. For teams in the corporate workplace and any individual seeking better leadership, team building or communication skills, working with horses provides a powerful new paradigm.” (http://www.pathintl.org/resources-education/resources/eaat)

The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.) is an international voice of the EAAT industry. As the premier professional membership organization, PATH Intl. advocates for EAAT and provides standards for safe and ethical equine interaction, through education, communication, standards and research.

The Swiftsure Ranch Therapeutic Equestrian Center is a PATH Intl. member center, utilizing the standards, research and education.  All Swiftsure instructors are certified at the Registered or Advanced levels.  To achieve Registered Certification, instructors are required to pass comprehensive open-book written exams,  complete a three-day hands-on instructor workshop, teach a minimum of 25 hours of mounted group lessons under the mentorship of PATH Intl. certified instructors, and pass an on-site certification consisting of both riding and teaching demonstrations.  To achieve Advanced Certification, instructors must have a minimum of 120 instruction hours to riders with disabilities, complete an advanced instructor prep course, pass comprehensive closed-book written exams, and pass an on-site certification consisting of the following: a lunging demonstration, a high level skill riding demonstration in two different seats and on two different horses, a demonstration of a lesson to able-bodied riders, and two different demonstrations of lessons to riders with cognitive and physical disabilities.

The following are additional disciplines that fall under the EAAT umbrella and, at this time, Swiftsure offers only the Therapeutic Riding discipline.

Disciplines of Equine-Assisted Activities and Therapies

Therapeutic Riding focuses on learning riding and horsemanship skills. PATH Intl. certified instructors use specialized teaching techniques and adaptive equipment to promote independence for individuals with a variety of disabilities or challenges while astride a horse. While the focus is on expanding horsemanship skills and knowledge, riders may experience benefits in physical strength, cognition, problem solving, coordination, confidence, and more.
Hippotherapy is a physical, occupational, and speech-language therapy treatment strategy that utilizes equine movement as part of an integrated intervention program to achieve functional outcomes. Treatment sessions are conducted by a licensed PT, OT, or SLP who have completed Hippotherapy courses and have a solid understanding of equine movement and the effects on the human body.
Equine-Facilitated Learning offers individuals experiential opportunities through interacting with equines to enhance life, social and communication skills in a physically and emotionally safe environment. Horses are non-judgmental and provide “in the moment” feedback which allows individuals to experience immediate feedback from their equine-partners. Sessions are facilitated by specially trained staff who have a thorough understanding of both equine behavior and senses as well as human mental health.
Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy is a creative and innovative method for the licensed mental health therapist and client to experience a live, interactive medium for assessment and intervention. The client and horse interact through various guided activities which provide powerful tools for coping, self-awareness and esteem, boundaries, and responsibility.
Interactive Vaulting is an activity in which participants perform movements on and around a moving horse. Movements can be as simple as sitting on the horse or as complicated as performing a compulsory move such as standing or doing a shoulder stand. Done in a group, interactive vaulting fosters teamwork, builds confidence and trust, encourages social interaction and respect, and builds physical strength.
Therapeutic Driving offers individuals with disabilities the rewards of interacting with and guiding a horse or pony through driving a carriage. Driving offers an alternative activity to riding, creating equine opportunities for individuals who may not be able to ride due to degree of disability, weight, or fear. Individuals experience improvements in physical strength, mobility, motor planning, and confidence while learning not only how to drive but also how to harness and care for the horse.