Children with autism benefit from equine therapy due to the motor, emotional, and sensory sensations that come with riding a horse. When riding a horse, you develop a bond with the horse and they become familiarized with your movements, attitudes and emotions. This makes horses extremely effective in bonding with an autistic child and encouraging communication and interaction. Autistic children learn to focus on something outside themselves and learn to communicate and interact by responding to verbal cues from the instructor.
The first time autistic children are introduced to equine therapy, they often exhibit the type of behavior that often accompanies changes in their environment. This can include crying, screaming, tantrums, and avoidance behaviors. The behavior almost always stops as soon as the child is on the horse and the horse starts moving. As therapy progresses, the child’s self-confidence is greatly increased and they form a sense of competence by learning how to interact and work with their horse. These children quickly form attachments and relationships with the horse they ride, and this behavior is then expanded to include teachers, trainers, therapists, and family members. I know this to be true from experience!
I’m not going to lie, I was apprehensive the first time we went for equine therapy. 38 pound child on a huge horse? The staff reassured me all would be well, and it was! Sissy loved E. J., the eleven year old horse she rode. The first time she rode E. J., not so much. It took three attempts to get her to ride him but once E. J. started to move her face lit up. She started petting him and trying to interact with him. We cannot wait until next fall for our chance to see E. J. again.
From one nervous mother to another, if you are apprehensive but have the opportunity to do equine therapy, do it! Much to my surprise, our insurance company covers equine therapy for the treatment of autism, so make sure you check with your insurance provider.