Understanding Therapeutic Riding

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Therapeutic Riding

Therapeutic riding uses equine-oriented activities for the purpose of contributing positively to the cognitive, physical, emotional and social well being of people with disabilities. Therapeutic riding provides benefits in the areas of therapy, education, sport, and recreation & leisure.

Therapeutic Riding Classifications

The following classifications reflect the primary fields of therapeutic riding and their different approaches. An integrated approach to therapeutic riding uses the therapeutic benefits in all four fields; however, each can be practiced as a specialty.


Equine activities are used as a form of therapy to achieve physical, psychological, cognitive, behavioral and communication goals. The therapy is provided by a licensed/credentialed health professional*. The use of the horse involves a team approach among licensed/credentialed health professionals, therapeutic riding instructors and clients.

The client may be treated in a group or on an individual basis directly by the health professional. Knowledge of the principles of classic hippotherapy is considered essential for all licensed/credentialed health professionals who provide direct therapy treatment using the horse. Such health professionals also integrate the treatment principles of their professions into the equine activities used in a treatment setting.

Several health professions, including Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Speech Pathology and Psychology, have developed specialized forms of treatment using the horse within those professions. These include, but are not limited to, Classic Hippotherapy, Hippotherapy, Developmental Riding Therapy, and Equine-Assisted.

Recreation and Leisure

People with physical, mental and psychological impairments may use equine activities — adapted as needed - as a recreation and leisure experience. The emphasis is on an enjoyable and relaxing experience that provides additional therapeutic benefits in the areas of socialization, posture, mobility and an overall improved quality of life. Individuals may participate in horse-related activities to their maximum ability in an atmosphere of support, structure and socialization for the primary purpose of the intrinsic enjoyment of the activity. Therapeutic riding instructors and recreational therapists are primarily responsible for program development. Licensed/credentialed health professionals and educational specialists are generally involved on a consultative basis.






Equine activities are used to achieve psycho-educational goals for people with physical, mental and psychological impairments as well as to provide the individual with skills in the sport chosen (such as riding, driving or vaulting).

The emphasis is to incorporate cognitive, behavioral, psychological and physical goals into the program plan while teaching adapted riding, driving or vaulting. The horse is a strong motivator for accomplishing these goals.

Therapeutic riding instructors, educational specialists and licensed/credentialed health professionals are involved in the design and implementation of the programs. The frequency of consultation with educational specialists and health professionals is determined on an individual basis.


People with physical, mental and psychological impairments can participate in sport activities — adapted as needed - with the horse. These activities include riding, driving and vaulting as forms of therapeutic recreation and competition. Activities are directed toward the acquisition of skills leading to the accomplishment of specific horsemanship goals.

By learning skills needed for the sport, therapeutic and recreational goals are also achieved. Therapeutic riding instructors are primarily responsible for the design and implementation of the program. Licensed/ credentialed health professionals, educational specialists and recreational therapists may assist the instructor in a variety of ways, and they are generally involved on a consultative basis. Individuals have the option of participating in a therapeutic riding program or pursuing their equine activities independently.