Horses: Nature's Greatest Therapists And Teachers

The other day I came across an interesting article titled "Horses Teach Teens With Autism All About Self Confidence" by Emerald Pellot. She discusses how working with horses can be very therapeutic for people who have Autism. Here is the link: Having ridden horses for nearly twelve years I can personally attest that horses are some of nature's greatest therapists. The article talks about how horses can help teach teens on the Autism Spectrum how to build confidence and learn better social skills. I want to share my experiences of how working with horses greatly benefited me in my development.

Like most things in life, success on the horse's back was something that I had to work hard at and my equestrian career got off to quite a rocky start. During my first riding lesson I actually fell off and was very scared to get back on the horse. Looking back on that November afternoon in 1998, getting back up on the horse was probably the best thing I could have possibly done for myself. For the first few lessons after that, I was traumatized to get on the back of a horse for fear of falling off again and getting hurt. My confidence grew each time I got back on the horse, though, and soon, riding horses was as second nature to me as picking up a fork is to many people. After facing my fear and developing good equestrian skills, I realized that with a little hard work I could do almost anything I put my mind to.  If I had not gotten back on the horse and faced my fear that day, I seriously doubt I would have even half the self confidence that I have today.

Riding my horse Felicity in a competition

Riding my horse Felicity in a competition

In addition to giving me confidence, I feel that working with horses taught me some important people skills. I had to learn how to deal with horses with all different types of personalities. The first horse I rode was a school horse named Donald who had taught a lot of children how to ride over the years and was more confident than I was. If I got skittish, he remained calm and would never freak out when I was on his back. When another kid came along for Donald to teach, I rode another horse named Nigel who was an accomplished show horse and gave me my start in the show ring. It was one thing to ride at home with the other students but it was another to ride in the show ring. This was a major step for me because having Autism makes change hard for me. Nigel however was very confident and helped me out in the show ring. When it came time for Nigel to retire, I started riding a horse named Felicity. She was much more high strung and had a reputation around the stable for biting or kicking people who came too near. The first day she pinned her ears back at me (a horses way of letting one know not to get too close), however she and I soon formed a strong bond which led to many blue ribbons in the show ring while riding against people who were not autistic. By successfully dealing with different personalities in horses, I learned how to deal with different types of people which is a very important social skill in life.

I benefited in more ways than I could imagine by working with horses. However, it's not just those who have High Functioning Autism who can benefit from horses. Equines can help those with a wide variety and severity of disabilities as well. I actually volunteered at a few therapeutic riding centers where I saw people with both all types of developmental disorders benefit greatly from being around horses and working with them. Horses can be great teachers, therapists and companions to everyone, whatever their affliction.