About Little Britches Therapy
By: Alice Daly
Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies
Little Britches, based at 2 different locations in Litchfield County, provides equine assisted activities and therapies to individuals with disabilities.
Our riding and driving instructors are certified by our parent organization Professional Association for Therapeutic Horseman (PATH) founded in 1969 to promote equine activities for people with disabilities. Individual riders are supported by a team of volunteers who function as leaders or side walkers. Occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech pathologists may be added to these teams in specific circumstances.
Who we serve
We serve individuals with a variety of special needs including but not limited to the following:
– Traumatic brain injury
– Speech abnormalities
– Attention deficit disorder
– Cerebral Palsy
– Down syndrome
– Anxiety disorders
– Multiple sclerosis
– Processing delays
Benefits of equine assisted activities
o Improved balance:
As the horse moves, the rider is constantly thrown off-balance, requiring
that the rider’s muscles contract and relax in an attempt to re-balance.
o Strengthened muscles:
Muscles are strengthened by the increased use involved in riding. Even
though riding is exercise, it is perceived as enjoyment, and therefore the rider has increased tolerance and motivation to lengthen the period of exercise.
o Improved coordination, faster reflexes, and better motor planning:
Riding a horse requires a great deal of coordination in order to get the
desired response from the horse. Since the horse provides instant feedback to every action by the rider, it is easy to know when you have given the
o Improved rhythm/timing:
Repetition of patterned movements required in controlling a horse
quickens the reflexes and aids in motor planning.
o Stretching of tight or spastic muscles:
Gravity helps to stretch the muscles in front of the leg as
the rider sits on the horse without stirrups.
Riding with stirrups with heels level or down helps to stretch the heel cords and calf muscles.
Stomach and back muscles are stretched as the rider is encouraged to maintain an upright posture against the movement of the horse.
Arm and hand muscles are stretched as part of routine exercises on the horse and by holding and using the reins.
o Increased range of motion of the joints:
Range of motion is also improved by the act of mounting and dismounting,
tacking up, grooming, and exercises during lessons.
o Sensory integration:
Riding stimulates the tactile senses both through touch and environmental
The vestibular system is also stimulated by the movement of the horse through changes in direction and speed.
The olfactory system responds to the many smells involved in a stable and ranch environment.
Vision is used in control of the horse.
The many sounds of a ranch help to involve the auditory system. All of these senses work together and are integrated in the act of riding.
In addition, proprioceptors (receptors that give information from our muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints) are activated, resulting in improved proprioception (knowing where your body is in sapce).
o Improved mobility
o Improved motor control (gross and fine motor)
o Improved muscle tone and postural control
o Improved arousal levels
o Confidence is gained by mastering a new skill.
o The ability to control an animal much larger and stronger than oneself is a great
Increased interest in the outside world:
o Riding increases interest in what is happening around the rider, as the rider explores the world from the back of a horse.
Increased interest in one’s own life:
o The excitement of riding and the experiences involved stimulate the rider, encouraging the rider to speak and communicate about it.
Improved risk-taking abilities:
o Riding is a risk sport. The rider (and their caregiver) learns to master fears though the act of staying on the horse, as well as attempting new skills and positions on the horse.
o Reduction of impulsive behaviors
Development of patience:
o Since the horse has a mind of it’s own, the rider learns patience as he or
she attempts to perform skills on the horse when the horse is not cooperating.
o Repetition of basic riding principles also helps to develop patience.
Behavioral Regulation Benefits:
o Improvement in state of arousal – is a physiological and psychological state of being awake or reactive to stimuli
o Arousal is important in regulating consciousness, attention, and information processing.
o Impulse control
o Accepting limits and rule following
o Reduction of unwanted (maladaptive / stereotypic) behavior
Relationship development /Friendship:
oAlthough riding can be a solitary activity, it is normally performed in groups. Riders share a common love of horses and a common experience of riding — a good foundation on which to build a friendship.
oCreation of a special relationship between rider and horse and promotes personal challenges.
Development of respect and love for animals:
o Horses require a great deal of care and attention.
o Riders find themselves bonding with the animals.
o They develop an interest in them and learn to care for them.
o The variety of experiences involved in riding are endless.
o From tacking and grooming to trail riding, from going to horse shows to learning
the parts of a horse, the rider is constantly experiencing and growing.
oThere is no doubt about it, riding a horse is fun. Riders experience excitement and pleasure every time they come for a lesson.
Strengthening the family foundation:
o Using horses to work together (for individual and their family member(s))
Potential leadership opportunities – as the more able riders become older and more skilled there potential opportunities for them to help their younger peers.
Increased responsibility and independence
Cognitive / Educational Benefits:
o Before one can read, it is necessary to recognize the difference in shapes, sizes,
and even colors. These can be taught and or reinforced easily on horseback, as part
of games and activities.
o There is less resistance to learning when it is part of a riding lesson. Through the use of signs placed around the arena, letters can be taught, and reading of individual words by word recognition can also be learned.
o Counting is practiced by counting the horse’s footsteps, objects around the arena, or even the horse’s ears and legs.
o Number concepts are gained as the rider compares the number of legs on a horse to the number of his own legs.
Sequencing, patterning and motor planning:
o Something as simple as holding and using a pencil requires a great deal of motor planning.
o Knowing which comes first in a sequence of events is an important part of most activities.
o These and other similar skills are taught on horseback though the use of obstacle courses, pole bending, drill team, and many other games and activities.
Improved eye-hand coordination:
o Eye hand coordination is necessary for such skills as writing.
o These skills are taught in tacking the horse, as well as various activities and exercises.
o This includes our awareness of form and space, and our understanding relationships between forms in our environment.
Included in this area are
directionality (knowing right from left)
space perception, which allows us to differentiate between items
close in shape but spatially different (i.e. “h” versus “b”)
form perception (i.e. differentiating “h” and “m”)
figure ground (picking out an object from the background)
Visual sequential memory (such as remembering symbols in a particular sequence or pattern).
o Both reading and math concepts involve visual spatial perception.
Visual spatial perception improves as a natural result of control of the
o The rider learns to discriminate significant from less significant stimuli in the environment.
An improvement in this area occurs as the rider learns to attend to his horse and those things that may influence the horse as opposed to attending the environment in general.
o Problem solving
The rider is often presented with situations in which they will need to
decide what to do
How do I make the horse go?
How do I get the green ring?
o Task completion
o Decision making
o Following directions
o Impulse control
Speech and Language Benefits:
o Improved Oral motor control
Keeping their mouth closed
Improved tongue movement
o Improved Choice making skills
Answering questions in regard to wants, needs and preferences
o Improved Negotiation skills
o Increased opportunity and motivation to use language to
Tell the horse to stop and go
Tell the instructor which way to go
I want the green one
Give me the
Engage in social communication
Greeting the instructor, volunteers and the horse
Participating in conversational exchange.
Therapeutic riding is familiar to many. Therapeutic driving is becoming more prevalent. It offers an opportunity to interact with horses to those not able to participate in riding activities. Individuals who might have difficulty sitting on a horse or have grown too big for the horses available are still able to participate in the recreational aspects of the Little Britches Program.
Sitting in the moving carriage provides a workout improving trunk stability and balance. Following directions and moving the horse and cart through cones and obstacles can help with motor planning, sequencing and spatial awareness.
Our mission at Little Britches is to expand and improve the physical and emotional wellbeing of individuals with disabilities using the movement of the horse. Our collective goal is to provide an activity that is both recreational and therapeutic to a population that has limited extracurricular opportunities. Our riders have a variety of disabilities, including but not limited to attention deficit disorder, Downs Syndrome, cerebral palsy, dyspraxia, oppositional defiance, visual impairment, auditory impairment and autism. There are many benefits to equine assisted activities and therapeutic riding. The specific benefits to each individual vary depending on the rider’s disability.
Our lessons are tailored to the individual student’s needs, so the goals for each rider differ. Some riders may focus on balance or increasing core strength, others may focus on sensory integration.
For more information you can visit the PATH International website.
If you would like information about the scientific research being done on the benefits of therapeutic riding can be found on the Horses and Humans Research Foundation website. http://www.horsesandhumans.org