By Dr. Melody Campbell March 2021
Take a moment to dream about something you never thought you could do. Bungee jumping, skydiving, mountain climbing, heliskiing are a few of the activities that only a few of us ever get to experience. Now, picture yourself with the challenges associated with physical or mental special needs. With these challenges in mind notice how narrow and limited the dreaming and opportunities become. What if we could open a door of access to an activity that not only provides fun and social interaction, but actually benefits you physically and emotionally? That door is PARD Therapeutic Riding!
We know that horses are great to be around. They can sense and connect with our emotions. They can show us things about ourselves, like courage and determination. There are also therapeutic physical benefits when you are riding a horse. The way horses walk directly affects the rider’s pelvic area, as explained below, creating the movements that humans use to walk.
HORSE AND HUMAN MOVEMENT
The movements of a walking horse facilitate almost identical patterns of movements in the human trunk and pelvis, while the rider is sitting astride the horse.
HOW THE HORSE WALKING AFFECTS THE HUMAN BODY WHILE ON A HORSE
While walking, the horses’ pelvis moves in an almost identical manner to the riders’ pelvis which is being passively moved by the horse.
This makes the horse an invaluable tool in the overall mobility of the pelvis and trunk of the rider.
The horses’ pelvis and the riders’ pelvis are at 90-degree angles to each other; therefore, the horses’ lateral flexion produces rider rotation and the horses’ rotation produces rider lateral flexion.
The three planes of movement occurring in the pelvis of the rider are anterior-posterior tilt, and lateral tilt to the pelvis, with weight shifting from one side to the other side. This weight shifting movement causes a continuing lengthening of the trunk on one side and shortening on the other with each stride the horse takes.
Now, you are probably wondering how you would ever be able to get on top of a horse! Well, we have the physical means to facilitate getting on a horse. At PARD we have you covered! We have a long ramp with a space in the middle that sort of looks like where you might put something like a boat or a horse. The ramp is 24 feet long so the incline is gradual up to the height of the back of a horse. If our rider is in a wheelchair, or has limited mobility, it becomes much easier to mount a horse. Our special therapy horses are very quiet and gentle so they are happy to stand still while we assist the rider to sit in the saddle. PARD also has adaptive equipment we use in order to assist our riders. We also have what are called ‘mounting blocks’ which look like a set of stairs that can be climbed up in order to mount the horse. With many volunteers available there is always assistance to ensure that everyone, rider and horse, are safe at all times.
Each rider is assessed by a physiotherapist and the certified instructors so that there is a plan in place for each rider based on their abilities and goals prior to beginning their riding. Volunteers are filled in on what is needed for each rider, and sometimes the need is even singing a song while the rider is in their lesson! Riders are also matched to horses as tiny Bobby can only have small people and someone like big Frank can accommodate bigger people. The horse’s gait, or way of walking, is also a consideration. Some horses take long strides (steps) and some take shorter or quicker strides. Much work goes into planning each lesson with great volunteers and dedicated Board Members and Instructors participating. Have I mentioned fun? We all have lots of smiles and laughter and encouragement in the lessons and in our interactions with the riders and their caregivers. Being outside and around our horses is an added bonus!!
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