Sensory Trail

A sensory trail is a trail ride that incorporates natural and man-made elements and activities that incorporate all the senses – such as hills, bridges, flowers, music or touch stations, and so on. These are so fun to have at a therapeutic riding program! I wrote a post a few years ago on sensory trail but I looked back and it was super lame, so I’m making a much better one now because since then I’ve helped plan a sensory trail and looked up a bunch of resources and ideas. I hope you find this helpful!

Therapeutic Riding Sensory Trails

Benefits of a Therapeutic Riding Sensory Trail

  • Natural and man-made sensory experiences stimulate all the rider’s senses (see, hear, smell, touch, talk) and encourage engagement with the world
  • Slopes, turns, and changes in footing challenge the rider’s balance and left/right discrimination
  • Encourages use of riding skills: steering, maintaining position, half seat up an incline or stepping over logs, leaning back down a hill
  • Trail signs and maps encourage visual skills, speech, spatial recognition, and language proficiency
  • Sensory stations can assist in developing motor planning and appropriate responses to sensations that the client can transfer into their everyday life
  • Some riders focus better outdoors and have more motivation to practice their riding skills in the context of a trail
  • Natural experiences such as trees, flowers, hedges, footing, slopes and turns create a variety of colors, textures, scents, and balance feelings that challenge and stimulate the rider
  • Activity stations further encourage integration of the senses, motor planning, problem solving, communication, etc.
  • Can be created with a specific clientele in mind (usually those with Sensory Processing Disorder), but used for any rider
  • Provides a peaceful walking trail for parents and caregivers who need a peaceful walk in nature for their own mental health.
  • Improves the mental health of the horses who often are ridden only in the arena – it switches up their day and keeps them interested, and prevents burn out and bad habits.

Activity Ideas for Sensory Trails

“Natural” elements

  • Slopes
    • Uphill
    • downhill
  • Turns
  • Varied footing
    • sand
    • gravel
    • dirt
    • tanbark
    • cement
    • water
  • natural sights, smells, and sounds
    • bird feeders to attract birds
    • trees for the wind to whistle through
    • flower/herb patch for smells and bright colors

Man-made “Activity Stations.”

  • Sniff & Smell boxes (a box with a lid that opens or a hole to stick their hands into) containing
    • Alfalfa
    • Hay
    • Grain
    • Peppermints
  • Steering Course
    • Have road signs for any of the following “obstacles”
      • stop
      • start
      • steer
      • 4 way intersection
      • roundabout
      • Back out of parking spot
      • Yield
      • deer crossing
      • go through a gate
      • walk through a creek
      • winding around an S-curve,
      • over blue tarp
      • walk over logs
      • halting at a dead end.
      • walking through a gravel bed,
      • walk through sand
      • walk through “careful footing”
      • teeter totter bridge
      • Over a gravel hill bridge
      • over a bridge,
      • Under the bridge
      • Walk through a trench
      • Noodles
      • Balance Beam
  • Sports inspired activities
    • target toss,
    • a ball-and-net activity,
    • a foam noodle “wall” to ride through,
    • a tether ball,
    • a golf-ball drop
    • activities using rings and flags.
  • Music Making station
    • Bells to ring
    • Bell to pull
    • maracas,
    • drums
    • several other handheld instruments
    • Hanging bells
    • Hanging wooden percussion chimes
  • Woodland Village
    • Houses and animals scattered around – barn, house, schoolhouse, log cabin, castle – use for matching, talking, identify objects within, game – door slide, drop open, swing
  • I Spy Trail
    • “hidden” critters for students to discover along the way. Activities along this “I Spy” trail focus on color/shape identification, visual scanning skills, and verbalization.
  • Quiet Trail
  • Map of the trail
    • Each activity station corresponds with a color/shape/image, which is also on a map of the trail. Riders us the map to make decisions where to go. They can come up with a plan before and remember it during.
  • A mailbox with surprises inside,
  • tree faces
  • pails with hands-on objects in them
  • Mural on the side of a barn wall or outdoor shed

Sensory Trail Examples & Articles

Pictures

For some more ideas, here are some pictures of Fieldstone Farm‘s sensory trail that I took when we got the tour at the 2015 PATH Intl Conference. It was so inspiring to see one in person!

 Bridge

 Tic Tac Toe

 Bush Maze

 Trellis Tunnel

 Mail Boxes

 Well

Extreme Trail Course Ideas

Thought not quite the same, these links may also be useful. They are to the presentation at the PATH Intl 2016 Conference called “Advanced Veteran Lesson Plans for Extreme Trail Obstacles” Debbi Fisher, Hope for Heroes Equine Therapy Consulting and Mark Bolender, 3 Time National Grand Champion, and course designer. The links have obstacle examples and construction information.

There, I hope that’s comprehensive enough for you! 🙂

Do you have a sensory trail at your barn? What are your favorite obstacles? Any advice for building one?

If you have pictures of your own sensory trail I’ve love to share them! Contact me and I’ll email you back so you have an email to send them to!

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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 judgement! If you would like to contribute an activity or article, please contact me here, I would love to hear from you!

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