Selecting the Horse for a Rider with Disabilities

This is a worksheet exercise for Instructor In Training to practice selecting a horse for a rider. We just started up our Instructor Training Program for the year and I’m trying to make our classroom sessions more interactive instead of just lecture, and this is a result of it.

To give you some back ground, Week 1 we focused on the Registered Instructor Criteria, the Standards, the CAT Course, the Self Assessment and the Professional Development Plan. Week 2 we focused on the Instructor Online Course, Horsemanship Criteria & Skills Checklist, and the Horse in Therapeutic Riding. Together we read through a handout based on The Horse’s Movement and Therapeutic Riding. (If it hadn’t been 12 degrees outside we would have ridden some horses too, to feel their motion!) Then I handed out the following worksheet, gave them time to fill it out on their own, and discussed our answers all together. They liked this activity and said afterward it was really helpful, so I want to share it with you.

Instructors, you can use it for the IT programs, and Instructors in Training, you can use it to practice!

Worksheet: Selecting the Horse for a Rider with Disabilities

Rider #1

Girl, age 8, small, lightweight. Has Cerebral Palsy, very little use of legs, is in wheelchair. When sitting in neutral she has low tone and slouches, but any sudden movement or touch causes her muscles to tense up – such as when she is startled, unbalanced, her horse transitions too fast, or her horse won’t stand still. She has delayed physical reactions and coordination. Mentally she has no disabilities and is very smart.

What type of horse does s/he need? (circle all that apply)

Build: Narrow, Medium, Wide

Size: Short, Medium, Tall

Gaits: Smooth, Medium, Choppy, Long stride, Short stride, Fast, Slow

Movement: Anterior/Posterior (front/back), Lateral (side/side), Rotational (both)

Transitions: Fast, Slow

Temperament: Laid back, Attentive, High maintenance

Movement needed for warmups: less stimulation (slow walk, smooth turns), more stimulation (fast walk, tight turns, trot)

Gaits needed during lesson: slow walk, fast walk, trot, canter

Horse’s training needed for the lesson: led by leader, independent riding, lunge line

Rider #2

Adult, male, age 40, tall, heavier. Has is on the Autism Spectrum, is nonverbal with minimal interest in socializing, and is easily distracted by noises or goes inside himself. He has independent ambulation with good balance and agility. He has good comprehension of directions but will only do things for himself if you do not help him (the moment you start doing it for him, he stops trying).

What type of horse does s/he need? (circle all that apply)

Build: Narrow, Medium, Wide

Size: Short, Medium, Tall

Gaits: Smooth, Medium, Choppy, Long stride, Short stride, Fast, Slow

Movement: Anterior/Posterior (front/back), Lateral (side/side), Rotational (both)

Transitions: Fast, Slow

Temperament: Laid back, Attentive, High maintenance

Movement needed for warmups: less stimulation (slow walk, smooth turns), more stimulation (fast walk, tight turns, trot)

Gaits needed during lesson: slow walk, fast walk, trot, canter

Horse’s training needed for the lesson: led by leader, independent riding, lunge line

Discussion

Rider #1 

Build: Narrow or Medium – even though she has low tone when relaxed, when her leg muscles tense they hurt if on a wider horse

Size: Short or Medium – being small a tall horse might make her scared, but putting her on a tall horse could be a good confidence builder; having little leg use indicates a thigh hold, so a tall horse may be hard for volunteers to do this on

Gaits: Smooth, Medium, Long stride, Slow – this rider needs a gait that relaxes her and keeps her muscles from tensing, however a little more motion without sudden movements is a good challenge to her low tone upper body

Movement: Anterior/Posterior (front/back), Rotational (both) – no lateral because it throws her balance off so much she tenses, front/back will make her feel more secure, and rotational would be good for working her muscles

Transitions: Slow – sudden movements make her tense

Temperament: Laid back, Attentive – a horse that stands still, but she’s smart enough that an attentive sensitive horse she can control herself would be great

Movement needed for warmups: less stimulation

Gaits needed during lesson: slow walk, fast walk – maybe a trot if she’s comfortable and the horse is smooth with smooth transitions

Horse’s training needed for the lesson: led by leader – she needs more strength before she can go off line

Rider #2

Build: Narrow, Medium, Wide – if he’s really heavy, a wider horse will support him better; but since he’s well balanced and agile, he could ride a narrow horse if needed

Size: Tall – because he is tall

Gaits: Medium, Choppy, Long or Short stride, Fast – because he is easily distracted he needs movement to focus and wake him up; the stride length doesn’t matter as long as it’s more concussive

Movement: Rotational – since he is not unstable nor working on balance, a mix of both movements is best

Transitions: Fast – again to help focus him

Temperament: Attentive or High maintenance – attentive so he can ride without assistance and do everything for himself, which helps keep his attention and engagement; high maintenance if he can consistently control the horse himself and it helps him focus – this particular rider will stop trying if the horse stops obeying him, so it depends on how high maintenance the horse is

Movement needed for warmups: more stimulation – we trot in warmups, then unclip him and send him loose asap

Gaits needed during lesson: fast walk, trot – again, more stimulation. I mention how Claudine Pelletier-Milet in her book Riding on the Autism Spectrum actually has her riders with Autism who need stimulation ride at the canter on a lunge line, but they are on ponies that she herself trained and knows very well, who are short enough that the kids can jump off of and not be hurt. Not sure a PATH Center would do that but I thought it was neat! For example this adult rider could probably stay on if we did this, but he has been known to jump off when he’s uncomfortable and I could see him doing this at the canter and really getting hurt.

Horse’s training needed for the lesson: led by leader, independent riding – leader for warmups, then independent asap.

Conclusion

As you can see, this worksheet can bring up a lot of interesting sides to choosing which horse to use! It gives two very opposite riders to consider, and in the end you learn that sometimes your decision depends on the horses you have available, and the rider after you meet them, as these descriptions are not complete.

Happy Instructing!

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Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgment!

2 thoughts on “Selecting the Horse for a Rider with Disabilities

  1. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the idea of classroom time for your IT’s!!!! WE have IT’s at our center, but we do not do any group IT instruction! Very forward of me to ask, but would you mind sharing your curriculum? Totally understand if you cannot. I know some centers have lawyers and such & have things copyrighten etc. But if it works & I don’t have to recreate the wheel, I always want to ask!

  2. Any time you can use interaction instead of straight lecture, you’ll get better results from your students. Good work!

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