Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies (EAAT) is an umbrella term used to describe all of the equine activities and therapies designed for people with disabilities or diverse needs. Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies include mounted and unmounted activities and offer therapeutic benefits for children and adults who present a wide range of physical, cognitive and emotional conditions.
EAAT have been shown to offer numerous physical benefits, including building muscle tone, strength and control, increasing range of motion, endurance, balance, gross and fine motor skills, stimulating cardio-respiratory function, and assisting in coordination, sensory integration and ambulation. A horse’s movement is closely related to the normal gait of a human being, which makes riding a particularly valuable therapy for many individuals with conditions that produce ataxia and/or spasticity of arms and legs, like multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy, and for one-sided paralysis and other problems with asymmetry. Another great advantage of riding is that the rider can receive beneficial exercise even while being quite passive, since the movement of the horse moves the rider’s body. As a result, riding can help relieve the contractures associated with wheelchairs and some diseases by gently moving, stretching, and supplying soft tissues in rhythm with the movement of the horse.
EAAT offer many possible cognitive benefits including learning critical problem-solving skills, how to take multi-step direction, how to plan and communicate, and rapport-building and role-modeling skills inherent in the relationships among rider, instructor and horse. Individuals with very low responsiveness have become more animated and interactive while riding. These individuals often become more attentive and willing to follow instructions while riding. They may become more verbal in order to vocalize commands to guide the horse, and take initiatives such as picking up the reins to steer the horse themselves, rather than waiting to have the reins put into their hands by the instructor.
EAAT also provide many emotional and social benefits. By caring for horses and working with them in a “team” setting, participants develop greater self-esteem and an increased sense of purpose, as well as a keener awareness of their surroundings, community and peers. Many participants learn how to overcome fear and anxiety and have the opportunity to improve their relations with others because they become more understanding of the differences and needs of individual horses and peers. Also participants often demonstrate a greater sense of empowerment as they gain confidence in their horsemanship skills both on the grounds and while riding.