The science behind a Little Britches riding lesson is complex. To start, as a horse walks his hips rotate in the same fashion as a human. For a person who is unable to walk, the experience of riding a horse gives the same sensation as actually walking. The muscles in the rider’s hips are massaged throughout the lesson in a manner unlike any other therapy available. Once the rider gets off the horse, he or she is often able to literally walk for a few steps, a result of the muscle memory. These moments are extraordinary.
Sensory integration is the neurological process of organizing information from the body and the environment making it possible to navigate space effectively. A sensory integration disorder results in difficulty processing information from the 5 senses, the sensory information is perceived abnormally causing confusion. Our horses are used to excite an abnormal sensory system in a calm and controlled setting. For instance, a person who relies on his or her sense of touch to facilitate functional behavior can benefit from feeling the horse’s soft coat or course mane. Add to that the twitch of a horse’s muscle as it reacts to a fly and the result is a sensation that helps the rider develop a better sense of the immediate environment.
Many people with disabilities suffer from speech limitations often connected to weak torso muscles. Riding a horse presents a unique opportunity to improve torso strength and posture. The rider is forced to sit taller allowing for better airflow to the diaphragm. This, coupled with the excitement of riding, encourages the desire to interact with the horse by speaking. The impact on a individual with limited speech is stunning. We have repeatedly witnessed students break years of silence when thrill meets therapy on the back of a horse.
Our students improve muscle tone, balance, posture and coordination when riding a horse. All of this leads higher self-esteem cultivated through achieving individual goals and learning the responsibility that comes with caring for animals.
People participating in Little Britches programs benefit in a variety of ways: physically, emotionally, cognitively and socially. They are surrounded by a community of staff, volunteers and equines dedicated to their well-being. Their behaviors, disabilities and differences are accepted and understood.