Horseback Riding: An Accessible and Enjoyable Activity

 A woman on top of a horse with an instructor next to the horse.

One-on-one training at Reins.

Horseback riding is a way to get physical exercise, learn a new skill and have fun. All of these elements are part of everyday operations at Reins, a therapeutic horseback riding center in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin. Reins offers horse-assisted activities and therapies for anyone with a disability ages four and older. Horseback riding has many beneficial aspects.

For people who are BVI, riding a horse could increase confidence, improve self-esteem, and provide the opportunity to build a bond with the horse.

Did You Know? There are many physical benefits gained through horseback riding. The pelvis and leg structure of horses directly mimics that of humans, so when a person rides on a horse, the rhythm of walking can be mimicked. It can improve balance, coordination, leg/arm strength and fine motor skills.

Four people stand around a man on a horse.

A group of staff and participants at Reins.

Reins has two core programs. Learning to Lead is geared towards at-risk elementary, middle and high school students. During the program, participants learn key life skills such as trust, leadership, communication and self-esteem through activities with the horses.

“All of our classes are in a group setting,” explains Rachel Fischer, a licensed occupational therapist and Senior Instructor and Equine Professional at Reins. “That allows us to work on some cognitive skills such as attention and focus, problem solving and turn-taking. Students also work on social and emotional goals like interacting with others and working as a team.”

The Therapeutic Riding Program is a ten-week session during which participants learn horsemanship skills, such as riding, grooming and saddling up horses. Throughout the course, Reins staff keep in mind the physical and cognitive goals of the participants. The horses used for the program are evaluated for temperament and the program is almost entirely run by volunteers.

Former Council Gallery Night artist, Ginger Torine, participated in the ten-week session in the summer of 2019. She had approached other stables, but they were hesitant to work with her because of her visual impairment. She found no such hesitancy at Reins.

“I was so impressed with Rachel and her ability to instruct,” Ginger says. “In figuring out what would work well, she asked thoughtful questions I had not considered.”

One such question involved the best way to give directions to the group. Reins has a speaker in the middle of the ceiling that is used during classes. Rachel asked Ginger if this would work or if it would be better if she used her voice so Ginger could hear where she was located. They figured out that using just her voice was best, since using the speaker tended to bounce the sound around the arena, making it difficult to use as a landmark. During the lesson on learning markings of horses, Rachel marked the spots on Ginger’s horse where he was white using medical tape. She placed the tape in the shape of the markings so Ginger could feel them. When Ginger made suggestions about how to put audio landmarks around the arena, Rachel was open to trying any ideas. Ginger brought a radio and got some sound tiles used to provide audio cues.

“All the volunteers were so kind and never made any of us with disabilities feel uncomfortable or different,” Ginger says. “It was a wonderful experience and one that I will never forget.”

Each ten-week season costs $400 per participant and scholarships are available. The program typically runs from June through August, though schedules may have changed due to COVID-19, so check the Reins website for the most current schedule and program information.

Equine therapy centers are certified through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International , so if you are not in Sheboygan Falls and would like to ride horses, consider contacting one of the other eighteen certified centers in Wisconsin.

Here is a list:

If horseback riding sounds like a fun activity that you would like to try, contact a center near you to get started.

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