Doha: The bond between horse and rider, which is on display at CHI AL SHAQAB, is increasingly being used to help children with autism. “Hippotherapy,” from the Greek word “hippos,” meaning “horse,” uses horseback riding to help children with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome improve social skills, sensory regulation, balance, strength and motor coordination.
In hippotherapy sessions, the mount is typically led by trainer, while an instructor gives directions. The rider is encouraged to communicate with the horse through words or actions, such as pulling on the reigns. In addition to riding, children may groom and learn about the parts of the horse.
Certain breeds of horses are known for their affection and loyalty to humans, and developing a bond with their mounts can help children who have difficulties interacting with others. Research has shown that non-verbal autistic children sometimes begin to speak when they are prompted to use the horse’s name and talk to the horse.
Riding on a horse stimulates the rider’s muscles and joints and promotes balance, all of which help relax tight muscles, build strength, and improve posture and motor skills. Riders also gain body awareness—often a difficulty for children with autism—which in turn leads to increased self-control and self-confidence.
Even when they’re not actively riding, children with autism can benefit from being around horses. The sights and smells of barns and stables activate sensory receptors, and patting or hugging horses provides tactile experiences as well.