Should Children with Autism Ride Horses? Why Not?

This Business Week article  and this story from Lake Tahoe   caught my attention because we have talked about getting MJ on a horse a few times.   Some parents of autistic children have reported that their kids are more verbal and more connected to others via eye contact following a riding lesson.   The parents of the  child described in the Tahoe story are reporting that he is no longer afraid of cats, dogs and other animals.

I’m not expecting developmental miracles from any horseback riding that MJ might try, but it does stand to reason that this type of physical activity may provide welcome sensory input and help with his coordination and balance.  If he is inspired to speak after sitting on a horse, well that would be great too.  Given the fact that we’re in New Jersey’s farm country and we’ve got a pony ride just past the local supermarket, I expect that we’ll give it a shot at some point.

Photo courtesy of  Per Ola Wiberg’s Flickr Photostream


Do you think Children with Autism should ride Horses?

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12 thoughts on “Should Children with Autism Ride Horses? Why Not?

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  • I think they should. Animals have a way of getting kids to open up, and not just autistic children. It’s because animals don’t judge and just accept the child the way they are, and it’s been proven time and again that works. So yes, if a child responds well to animals, then there should be a way to incorporate animals into the sessions/treatment.


    Ask the parents of any kid with a horse, and they’ll tell you about the nearly uncountable ways in which learning to interact with horses has helped their child’s social, psychological, and physical development and maturity. Learning to be the “leader” of an animal who can rely on them for guidance but is smart enough to act on their own is a great way for kids to develop leadership abilities and confidence and learn to work as part of a partnership. Furthermore, and this is very important for kids with autism, I often like to think of horses (especially therapy horses) as patient teachers who do not use words to impart their lessons to their students. When working with horses, children must learn to listen and read cues from a teacher who can not speak, and communicates only with body language. Subtle cues are often lost on autistic people, but with horses, they are easier to learn, because a horse never lies. Each signal has a specific meaning, and a horse uses it to clearly make a particular message–every time. Even as a non-autistic person, I find horses to be MUCH easier to read than people.

    Anyway, that’s just part of my reasoning… But YES. Working with horses can do a world of good for autistic children.

  • I think so, but you also have to be extremely careful, it can’t just be any horse. I would try going to places that do Animal Assisted Theraphy. Some children can be very expressive with their voices and this may startle a horse, so you would need to make sure the horse can handle all of this without the possibility of harming a child.

  • I volunteered at Coffee Creek Riding Center here in Oklahoma for years. I worked with physically and mentally handicapped children including MANY autistic kids. A non-verbal boy said his first word, “blue,” while playing games on a horse. It’s not a “cure” but it is a great sensory experience. At Coffee Creek we have one person leading the horse and at least one person bracing the child on the horse. It’s totally safe and the kids had great therapy sessions 🙂

  • There is a local program here in Ohio for special needs children as well. I know a few of the people involved and they are passionate and magnificent with the animals and the kids. I’ve seen it work WONDERS. I have a son who has PDD and I took him and his two younger siblings for a trail ride. It was probably the most wonderful, relaxing thing we have EVER done as a family and it gave him a real sense of accomplishment.

  • Absolutely!  The connection that’s made non-verbally can sometimes even outweigh the verbal…but the verbal or some other form of expanded communication seems to come eventually in many.

  • oh definitely… it is a wonderful sensory experience for them. My son loves it . It is through being around horses that he became less fear full of the smaller animals. I would recommend to all.


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