Horses 4 Autism Therapeutic riding for individuals with autism. This program is based on Horse Boy methods which were developed specifically to accommodate the needs of individuals with autism. We are not teaching individuals to ride (unless that is what they want) instead we use the horse as a tool to help individuals to improve communication, academics, perspective taking and many other skills. Below are the principals we base our program on. It’s a simple 6 stage process. We create the right environment, address sensory issues and these then allow perspective taking and academics to be taught from the saddle, and finally self-advocacy.

1. Environment

We create and environment with no bad sensory triggers in which the individual has perfect freedom to explore and where families can exchange information, find community and where natural surroundings, including animals which can be pet and played with which calm the over active nervous system are the norm.

2. Sensory work

By removing bad sensory triggers, we address the individual’s sensory integration challenges and then work directly to further this by laying the individual body to bareback on the horse’s back. “Stimming” and other stress behaviors fall away and the child’s intellect engages.

3. Back-riding

The actual horseback riding has many benefits: The rhythmic rocking motion created by  the horse, rocks the individual’s hips which scientist believe floods the individual’s body with the feel good hormone oxytocin; studies have shown that any activity that causes you to find and re-find your balance from moment to moment opens up the learning receptors of the brain, The individual is thus in the ideal position to receive and retain information.

4. Perspective taking

By playing rule-based games and engaging in specially designed perspective taking exercises, we begin to re-pattern. As time goes on the individual’s cognitive process begins to normalize and develop in a more neurotypical fashion. It’s also lots of fun.

5. Academics

Once the individual has reached the perspective taking stage we can start to introduce math, reading, history, geography, the natural sciences and even languages while in the saddle. The key here is to use specialized kinetic learning techniques with both the horse and adapted play equipment. We find that most individuals display a level of intellect far in advance of their documented achievements to date.

6. Self-Advocacy

Now the objective is to encourage the individual to begin teaching us about what interests them. This self-advocacy process – the ability to make a case for oneself – is the single most important survival tool that a human being can have. These are the basic principles of the program and the principals can be used for individuals of all ages and are always modified to each individual’s needs, level of functioning and age.

Social skills are another area that can be taught very successfully with the help of a horse. When working with horses we have to rely on body language to understand each other. Individuals learn to read the horse’s body language and at the same time become aware of their own body language in a very accepting and non-threatening environment.