For thousands of years the bond between man and animal has proven to be effective in creating an emotional, healing bond. Horses are used by physical, speech, and occupational therapists to reach their patients on a personal level through what is referred to as “hippotherapy.” Children with autism also benefit from equine therapy due to the motor, emotional, and sensory sensations that come with riding a horse.
Creating the Emotional Bond
Autistic children have difficulty bonding emotionally to others. As the parent of an autistic child, you know that it is hard for your child to make eye contact, communicate what he is feeling, and express himself to those he cares about. Rather than verbal communication, autistic children experience physical communication with the horses. They brush them, hug them, and pat them. By learning to care for the horse, they associate the care they provide with feelings and an emotional bridge is constructed. This bond can lead to social and communication skill production with other people in his life as well.
Cognitive and Language Skills Development
Autistic children often have difficulty comprehending normal directions. By engaging in equine therapy, your child follows directions through a fun activity that makes taking direction easier to grasp and remember. He will also give the horse direction, which provides him with more opportunities to communicate. Your child is naturally motivated to move; thus, he is excited and motivated to communicate. During his therapy his cognitive concepts will naturally improve. For example, equine therapists have children throw colored balls into baskets while riding, touch their eyes, mouth, and ears during a song, and identify scenes—all incorporated during riding.
Balance and spatial orientation are experienced through the vestibular sense organs. These are located inside the inner ear and are stimulated through direction change, incline, and speed. Riding a horse helps liven these sensory preceptors, which helps make therapy exciting and motivates your child to continue to be engaged.