EWD (Equestrians With Disabilities) 

Some disabilities are more noticeable than others, but if we’re honest, horses have helped all of us heal in some way or another.  Horses are master healers and can help us process through emotional and mental wounds, as well as help us rise above physical disabilities.  Whether you’ve experienced a physical, mental, or emotional wound, horses can (and SHOULD!) still be part of your life.  More than ever today, there are fabulous ways to stay involved in the equestrian world if you have a disability of any kind.

Improving Physical Limitations

Outside of the obvious emotional benefits, horseback riding is great for people with physical disabilities.  Riding can help stimulate and simulate movement that is no longer possible for the rider.  Not only that, horseback riding helps improve muscle strength, posture, range of motion, and even metabolism.  Horseback riding can be a great physical therapy for someone with lifelong, or new disabilities.

Focused Therapy

Equine Facilitated Therapy

Equine facilitated psychotherapy is also known as equine assisted counseling.  This form of horse work promotes safe interaction with horses to assist with emotional and mental disabilities and behavioral problems.  It can also help with dealing with grief or major life changes.  This therapy is often used to treat anxiety, mood disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  One or more horses may be used in a session, and some sessions may include family members or group therapy.

Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL)

EFL is very effective for youth and adults and involves a number of emotional and social activities based on horse experiences.  Facilitators use transpersonal experiences from animal communication to shamanism to help invoke self-awareness and mindfulness.  This technique is effective to help those with a history of making poor choices, or those under intense stress.


Hippotherapy is a key type of equine therapy that is performed by a licensed and trained physical, speech, occupational/language therapist.  In this type of therapy, the therapist uses the movements of the horse to help improve motor skills and sensory input of the patient.  Movement and sensory activities with the horse is key to this treatment.

Therapeutic Riding

Therapeutic riding is led by a riding instructor and is usually guided by a hippotherapist.  Horseback riding is used to help improve the physical, emotional, and social state of mind for the patient.  This is highly effective for children with cerebral palsy, Downs Syndrome, language development, and trauma recovery.

Horse Shows For Equestrians With Disabilities

After countless letters, calls, meetings, and groups, there are now many competitive shows that meet the needs of equestrians with disabilities.  Representatives from PATH, Special Olympics and therapeutic riding centers provided input and guidance to create the guidelines, rules, and classes for the competition.  Riding may look a little different from first glance.  For example, adaptive equipment and instruction is provided.  You will also probably see extra safety measures taken, especially when balance might be a concern.

The AQHA and many other associations have events for equestrians with disabilities.  Don’t let your physical limitations hold you back from a sport you love!

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