|Riding for the disabled – creating that magical bond between horse and rider – a therapeutic experience.It is not clear when riding for the disabled became a specialized field, but history records people with disabilities riding horses as early as the days of the ancient Greeks. Orbasis of ancient Lydia documented the therapeutic value of riding in 600 B.C. Even then, it was acknowledged that riding was more than a means of transportation; it was also a way of improving the health and well-being of people with handicaps.
The first study of the value of riding as therapy was reported in 1875. French physician Cassaign used riding as a treatment for a variety of conditions, and concluded that it was helpful in the treatment of certain kinds of neurological disorders by improving posture, balance and joint movement, as well as psychological improvements.
At the turn of the century, England recognized riding for the disabled as a beneficial form of therapy and offered riding therapy for wounded soldiers at the Oxford Hospital during World War I. By the 1950’s, British physiotherapists were exploring the possibilities of riding as therapy for all types of handicaps. The British Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) was founded in 1969 with the enthusiastic support of the Royal Family.
Riding therapy was introduced in Scandinavia in 1946 after two devastating outbreaks of poliomyelitis. Lis Hartel, an accomplished horsewoman, was stricken with the disease. Although surgery and physiotherapy helped her to walk again with the aid of crutches, she was determined to ride independently again and began daily supervised riding sessions to improve her muscle strength and coordination. Liz Hartel brought attention to riding for the disabled when she won the silver medal for Dressage at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games. She and Ulla Harpoth, a physical therapist from Copenhagen, went on to use horses as therapy for their patients.