History

History records indicate that people with disabilities began riding horses dating back to the days of the ancient Greek.  “Orbasis of ancient Lydia documented the therapeutic value of riding in 600 B.C.” (History).  Even then they acknowledged that horseback riding was not just a mode of transportation.  They knew that it was also a mode of therapy that could improve health and well-being (History).  French physician Cassaign conducted the first study of determining the usefulness of therapeutic riding in 1875.  Cassaign concluded that this therapy was beneficial in treating neurological disorders because THR improved posture, balance, and psychological perspectives (History).

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Approaching the 20th century, England recognized THR and offered it for wounded soldiers during World War I.  The RDA, British Riding for the Disabled Association, was founded in 1969 with huge support of the Royal Family (History).  

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Riding therapy also began in Scandinavia in 1946 when poliomyelitis broke out.  A woman named Lis Hartel was a victim of poliomyelitis and she used riding therapy to improve her muscle and strength coordination.  Ms. Hartel brought attention to THR for disabled people when “she won the silver medal for Dressage at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games” (History).  THR then came to the United States and Canada in 1960 when the Community Association of Riding of the Disabled was formed (History).  In the United States lays the oldest THR center in Michigan, focusing on disabilities, the Cheff Center (History).

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The North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA), founded in 1969, served as a leading committee to many THR groups in the United States and the United States’ bordering neighbors.  “NARHA provides the safety guidelines and training, certifies instructors, accredits THR centers, distributes information, and offers low-cost insurance to member organizations” (History).

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Today, disabled riders participated in national and international competitions to demonstrate their accomplishments.  Hippotherapy, physical therapy on horseback, has become a recognized medical field by many major countries.  Even other forms of therapy involving horses such as, Equine Facilitated Mental Health and Equine Experiential Learning, are gaining recognition.  “Doctors, psychiatrists, physical and occupational therapists, speech therapists, and teachers now refer patients/students to THR centers” (History).

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