What are the Benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy?
Interacting with animals can have social, physical and emotional benefits, whether this means spending time with a pet or doing activities alongside animals, such as horse riding.
There has been a rising interest in animal and pet therapy in recent years as more people have started experiencing its positive effects and more research is done into the area.
Horses make wonderful therapy animals – when on one of our accessible holidays in Devon, you have the opportunity to get to know our lovely horses, with the chance to ride them, ride in a carriage and interact with these gentle creatures during your stay!
You can find out more about the benefits of horse riding for people with disabilities in our guide.
What is Animal-Assisted Therapy?
Animals have been helping people for centuries, assisting us on farms and providing companionship. They can also help people with mental and physical disabilities as a form of therapy.
Stroking animals and spending time with them has been found to help temper feelings of anxiety and lower blood pressure, among many other benefits, making it a wonderful tool alongside other forms of mental and physical therapies.
Many find that animals accept you without question and are willing to show affection no matter who you are. Therefore, they can offer some relief for people who are worried about being judged or rejected in some way.
The kind of animals used for therapeutic purposes may depend on the individual seeking animal-assisted therapy and their disability. Common therapy animals include:
Here at Calvert Exmoor, we’ve seen some of the benefits interacting with horses can have first-hand, so understand how rewarding it can be for people of all abilities to spend time with animals.
Discover some of the top benefits of animal-assisted therapy.
Animal Therapy can Improve Your Mood
Interacting with animals can be a great mood-booster for anyone – there’s nothing better than a dog showering you with some love!
The simple act of stroking an animal can prompt your brain to release mood-boosting hormones like serotonin and oxytocin, helping to improve your overall mood and make you feel more relaxed.
Animal Therapy can Support Mental Health
As well as improving general mood, animal therapy can be beneficial for a range of mental health conditions and disorders.
The comforting power of animals means interacting with them can help reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. People have also reported a reduction in feelings of boredom and loneliness when accompanied by a furry or feathery (or even scaly) friend.
Animals can also provide an escape from negative emotions and decrease perceptions of pain.
Thanks to these benefits, this therapeutic practice can be beneficial for people with:
Animal Therapy can Support Physical Health
Taking care of a pet, meeting a therapy animal or participating in animal-based activities can encourage you to exercise and move in new ways. While doing so, you’ll likely also be spending more time outdoors, which comes with a whole host of mental and physical benefits of its own!
As you pet or play with an animal and learn the best ways to interact with them, you can improve motor skills and coordination too.
Being in the presence of an animal can also make you feel more motivated to do activities that support movement and exercise, boosting physical well-being and encouraging you to try new things.
Animal Therapy can Improve Social & Communication Skills
In many cases, animal therapy opens the door to social interactions, as you can bond with other pet owners or the other people taking part in things like horse riding sessions.
Building a bond with animals can also create a feeling of social support, helping people feel like they are not alone. This too can support the development of social support skills that can translate into other areas of their life.
As animals can’t talk and tell you what they want, finding new ways to communicate and interpret their actions is often necessary. This means developing new communication skills or learning what their behaviours might mean.
Animal Therapy can Boost Self-Esteem
As already mentioned, animals won’t judge you and will accept everyone who treats them kindly.
This can help boost self-esteem for people who are worried about not being able to accomplish certain things or not being ‘good enough’ – a therapy animal will love spending time with you no matter what!
Accessible Horse Riding & Stable Activities at Calvert Exmoor
Getting to know our friendly horses and ponies here at Calvert Exmoor is a great way to reap the benefits of animal-assisted therapy.
Some of the horse-based activities our guests can take part in include:
- Horse riding
- Playing games to improve riding confidence
- Riding in a horse-drawn carriage for wheelchair users, those who can’t mount a horse or those who cannot ride safely due to a weight limit
- Meeting and stroking the different horses for an exciting sensory experience
- Learning about horse behaviour and how to communicate with them
- Grooming, tacking up and mucking out
- Pony agility sessions to guide ponies around obstacles
These activities are run by our expert members of stable staff, who will ensure that people of all abilities feel safe and comfortable when interacting with the horses.
Horses are gentle and incredibly intelligent, and our horses are just as professional as the rest of our team, so you can be sure they’ll help you have the best experience possible!
If horse-riding or any of our other inclusive adventure activities sounds like something you or someone you know would love, why not take this opportunity to book an accessible holiday with us at Calvert Exmoor?
To discuss your trip, please get in touch with our team.
Among our accessible facilities, our site at Calvert Trust Exmoor includes our accessible riding stables, so school groups, families and much more can all enjoy a day out with our extended family – our horses and ponies.
We include horse riding as it is a sport where everyone can get involved and make memories together. The sport has been recognised to help support physical and emotional development while also helping people feel happier and more confident.
Calvert Trust Exmoor’s Accessible Riding Stables
Here at Calvert Trust Exmoor, we have our very own on-site riding school. We are recognised for having a high standard of facilities and are approved by the British Horse Society. We have a BHS-Accredited Professional Coach among our team, and our carriage driving instructors are trained to British Driving Society standards.
On each session, our committed team work together to ensure that your experience with Calvert Trust Exmoor is as inclusive as possible. Our horses are specially selected and trained to ensure that they have the right temperament for our guests to interact with and the right size for riding.
Horse Riding for People with Disabilities at Calvert Trust
We constantly strive to make all of our facilities as accessible as possible, to share our experiences with each of our visitors. Guests are provided with several different activity options during their time at our stable school so that we can cater to all disabilities.
Horse based activities are a great way to develop confidence, increase independence, and hone new skills in an inclusive and enjoyable way. Our friendly horses and specially-trained staff give everyone a sense of calm and wellbeing while supporting our guests to challenge themselves and have fun.
Riding School Activities and Sessions
Individuals are offered a variety of activities that include riding a horse, playing games and improving their confidence around horses. For those unable to mount a horse, we also offer a carriage riding experience, where you will be able to take the reins and drive!
When on a session at our riding school, we ensure that everyone meets and interacts with various horses and ponies. We support things like stroking during our sessions, as this sensory experience supports the development of motor skills and nerve connections.
We even provide the opportunity to learn more about horse behaviour and ‘how to speak horse’, alongside other stable management tasks such as grooming, tacking up, and mucking out.
As well as getting your hands dirty, we also offer opportunities to experience pony agility sessions, where you will work with the pony to get over and around various obstacles.
It’s worth noting that our horse and carriage riding sessions are only available on midweek or full-week breaks; they do not take place at weekends.
To ensure our horses and ponies’ health, there is a weight restriction for our guests who wish to participate in riding and carriage driving.
What are the Overall Benefits of Horse Riding for People with Disabilities?
A 2018 study demonstrated that horse riding is a therapeutic activity for young people and children. Over the course of the study, it presented a great range of positive health benefits for various diagnoses, including developmental, physical and behavioural.
Horse riding helps individuals to gain more confidence and express who they are. By building their confidence, you’ll see a wonderful change in mood, self-esteem and self-belief. The ongoing development of self-confidence supports the individuals to get more involved and socialise with others.
Horse riding can also help increase a range of movement; this is because the horse allows the pelvis, spine and other associated muscles to work together as they would if they were walking. This rhythmic movement relaxes tight and stiff muscles, improving their core, coordination and balance.
As well as this, horse riding helps participants gain a greater awareness of their body’s capabilities! As well as supporting the strength of their body, the horse’s movement motivates participants to look up from the ground and grow awareness and interest in their surroundings.
Sense of Accomplishment
The horse’s immediate feedback in response to the rider’s actions helps individuals discover a new set of skills and guide the horse. By experiencing this accessible activity, participants often feel a sense of success and mastery. Overall, this empowerment helps participants to build on their self-advocacy and make independent choices.
Due to the nature of horse riding, riders are presented with many opportunities to interact with others in the group, including the horses. Accompanied by their growing sense of self-esteem, riders are more likely to develop their communication skills and connect to those around them.
Adapt to Change
Experiencing change can often trigger anxiety; horse riding presents various opportunities to help riders overcome this. In the study, some riders began to accept and seek change freely. This experience allows riders to experience less anxiety, demonstrate their courage and adapt to situations much quicker.
Benefits of Carriage Driving
We understand that not all of our guests can horse ride due for a variety of reasons. To ensure that each of our guests gets to share the experience with one of our horses, we also provide carriage riding and driving.
Carriage riding supports our visitors to improve:
- Muscle power
As well as supporting the driver’s physical abilities, the experience can be quite soothing, helping the driver relax thanks to the rhythmic movement of the horse pulling the carriage and the added benefit of being out in the open air.
Benefits of Horse Riding for Cerebral Palsy
Horses have been used to help treat cerebral palsy since the 1970s. Methods like hippotherapy have been used to help support and enhance individuals’ neurological and physical abilities. The approach was first discovered in the 1960s; it was based on the learned and spontaneous reactions that naturally evolve from riding a horse.
Horse riding is an enjoyable activity that offers riders benefits in a range of physical areas, such as:
- Muscle strength
- Weight shifting
- Joint flexibility
- And much more!
Not only does horse riding have a great range of physical benefits, but it also offers a great range of psychological ones! Reports have shown that children with cerebral palsy that enjoy horse riding can develop improvements in:
- Cognitive development
- Courage in movement and position change
- Overall mood
- Confidence and sense of responsibility
Benefits of Horse Riding for Brain Injuries
Animal Assisted Therapy has been shown to significantly improve the communication skills of those who have suffered brain injuries.
Studies have shown that using animals, such as horses, as a means of therapy has led to a significant increase in social behaviour, including verbal and non-verbal communication. One major component of this stems from the individual’s motivation to care for the animals, which often inspires them to do tasks they might usually struggle with.
Benefits of Horse Riding for Autism
Studies have shown that children with autism can acquire long and short-term benefits from horse riding. Direct contact with horses has been shown to reduce irritability and hyperactivity.
Researchers from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have documented a great range of short-term benefits for autistic children who have engaged with horseback riding. Human-animal interactions have been proven to support the improvement of emotional health and social wellness.
Within these results, the children riding horses showed a reduction in irritability and hyperactivity. As well as this, they also showed an improvement in their social skills and word fluency.
After following up their results, the researchers found that horse riding had lasting benefits on the riders. The children had maintained their reduction in irritability and growth in social skills and word fluency.
Benefits of Horse Riding for Down Syndrome
Horse riding is an excellent activity for people with down syndrome; it provides sensory stimulation for muscles and joints and helps to support the development of balance and movement.
The sensory activity is very tactile, as it often includes stroking, hugging and patting the horse. This is important for any form of special needs as it helps build the brain’s nerve connections, improve cognitive growth, and support the development of motor skills.
Horse riding is also a great way to instil confidence in riders and develop memory, strength and coordination, while still providing a fun and exciting experience.
Benefits of Horse Riding for ADHD
Animals have been proven to be beneficial for people with ADHD, especially children.
If a child runs up to a horse impulsively, the horse might withdraw, but if the child calmly approaches the horse, it will respond more positively. Horses have been used throughout therapy to help people with ADHD to connect to others.
While riding, horses respond to verbal and non-verbal communication through their reigns and the rider’s legs. Experiencing this form of communication can be very effective. Not only is the overall experience calming, but it requires teamwork, too, increasing the rider’s focus and organisation skills.
Benefits of Horse Grooming for Dementia
A study has shown that people who suffer from dementia experience a boost in physical activity and ease in symptoms after caring for horses. While spending time with the horses, researchers found that people who have dementia experienced an immediate lift in mood.
The study also demonstrated a clear improvement in overall behaviour; even those who often acted withdrawn were fully engaged with the experience. As well as this, caring for horses instilled a motivational cause to push their physical boundaries, like walking unassisted or standing from their wheelchair.
We hope this article has helped share some of the benefits that horse riding provides for people with disabilities. If you want to find out more about our activities, contact our team or browse our blog.