Horse riding is often described as fun activity that provides disabled riders with the chance to participate in an enjoyable activity while reaping the physical and mental benefits that horse riding can bring.
Accessibility Mark centres are helping to roll out horse riding opportunities to more disabled people, encouraging the development of a new skill whilst promoting physical exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise!
Riding for the Disabled Association, in partnership with the British Equestrian Federation’s participation programme, launched the revolutionary Accessibility Mark scheme to work with commercial riding centres with the aim of getting more disabled people to participate in riding.
The key therapeutic factor in horse riding is the movement of the horse, providing physiotherapy on the move; the warmth and three dimensional movement of the horse is transmitted through the body of the rider, helping them to relax.
As the horse moves, the rider is required to engage their muscles in order to maintain balance, whilst at the same time strengthening muscles and helping to increase the range of motion in joints.
Overall the physical benefits of riding can help improve posture, balance and coordination.
Living with any form of disability can also take its toll on mental health and this is where the psychological benefits of horse riding can improve a person’s quality of life. Getting out in the fresh air provides a valuable distraction from the challenges of day to day life, promoting a sense of well-being and increasing self-confidence.
For riders with learning disabilities or those who have autism, horse riding can prove to be life enhancing, helping to improve concentration and social interaction.
Horse riding can help autistic people with sensory overload, which occurs when one or more of the body’s senses experiences over-stimulation from the environment, by learning to attend to their horse rather than focus on their surroundings.
Smarden Therapeutic Stables
Smarden Therapeutic Stables CIC offer therapeutic sessions from its base at 4 Gaits Riding School in Kent. Owner, Lisa Evans, secured Accessibility Mark accreditation for Smarden Therapeutic Stables in 2016, having developed a real passion for teaching clients with learning difficulties with up to 10 years’ experience in her role at 4 Gaits.
Lisa believes that horse riding can benefit disabled riders for many reasons.
“From the moment they first come into contact with a horse they are starting to build up a relationship with another being that is not going to judge them, or ask questions, just be willing to listen.
“Once on board the movement of the horse stimulates the mind and releases good endorphins. The rider has to learn to adjust their body to move with the horse’s different movements, such as halt to walk, walk to halt, and walk to trot.
“Over time, riding helps massively with core strength as well as building many other muscles. Exercises that we tend to use in our sessions also help with hand-eye co-ordination.” said Lisa.
The Therapeutic Stables have gone from strength to strength following their accreditation, building a strong relationship with students from a local school for children with severe, profound and complex needs.
After attending the stables for 18 months, some of the students have gone on to become members of The Pony Club and are working towards achievement badges, already gaining their Bronze Award in Perfect Paddock, Grooming and Care of the Foot.
“The students were at the stage of leaving school and integrating into society, all had learning difficulties, autism and some form of ADHD. We saw significant changes to their confidence, showing empathy, taking responsibility and working together as a team.
“I have to say when the students left with a real sense of independence, we all felt very proud and honoured to have been a part of their journey,” added Lisa.
Accessibility Mark status is awarded to a riding centre that has been approved by the RDA following training and assessment. The close link with the RDA means that it can offer continuous support to the establishment to ensure it provides a first-class experience that aims to be hugely beneficial.
There are currently 39 Accessibility Mark approved centres across the country.
To find your nearest RDA Group or Accessibility Mark centre visit www.rda.org.uk