Horseback Riding as a Treatment for Autism

Autism symptoms may be improved by therapeutic horseback riding

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Therapeutic horseback riding teaches riding skills to people with disabilities with the goal of improving mental and physical health. Children with autism spectrum disorders may benefit from this type of experience.

A small study explored the way that autism symptoms and behaviors were affected by therapeutic horseback riding, which is also called equine assisted activities.

After 10 weeks of therapeutic horseback riding, children with autism showed improvement in self-regulation skills, motor skills, and language skills.

"Ask your child’s psychologist about her therapy needs"

Therapeutic horseback riding is offered by certified or licensed professionals that teach riding activities and horsemanship. According to the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH), therapeutic horseback riding can improve motor and thinking skills and can also offer emotional benefits.

A recent study, led by Robin Gabriels, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist at the Children’s Hospital of Colorado, looked at the ability of therapeutic horseback riding to improve symptoms for children with autism spectrum disorders. 

Forty-two children with autism spectrum disorders participated in a 10 week program of therapeutic horseback riding. Children in the study were between the ages of six and 16.

Before and after the therapy, the children were assessed for self-regulation skills, adaptive living skills, motor skills, and language skills both. After 10 weeks, children who participated in the therapeutic horseback riding showed improvements in self-regulation skills, like repetitive behaviors and hyperactivity.

They also showed improvements in expressive language skills and motor skills.

The authors note that this is a small exploratory study with promising results that may mean that therapeutic horseback riding could be a beneficial treatment for autism. More research is needed in a larger group of children to fully understand any potential benefits.

This study was published in the April-June Issue of Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 11, 2012
Last Updated:
April 13, 2012