3 Activities Stations for Dementia EAAT Programs

One of my favorite sessions at this year’s 2019 PATH Intl. Conference was “Riding In The Moment” about Hearts & Horses’ program for people with dementia. The presentation was great, I do not think it was recorded but I sure hope so. I want to share the new ideas I learned from it that goes along nicely with the other blog posts I’ve done on dementia. Enjoy!

3 Activities Stations for Dementia EAAT Programs

The Program

Rotate 3 groups of however many participants you can accommodate through these 3 activity stations:

  1. Grooming
    • Horse that stands quietly and loves to be loved on
    • 1 instructor, 1 horse handler per horse, 1 helper who works with the person
  2. Sensory Station
    • Vary this activity weekly
    • Ideas:
      • Art/Craft
      • “Horse Talk” – participants sit in a row of chairs while a friendly horse comes and says hi to each person
      • Nature activity
      • Flower arranging
      • Cookie decorating
      • Seed planting
    • Tips:
      • Incorporate touch, sound, smell, all the senses
      • Causes triggers that can lead to forgotten memories
  3. Ride
    • Have the horses tacked and ready
    • Offer both english and western tack
    • Incorporate memory games
    • Takes a lot of time (especially the dis/mount) so have 2 instructors
    • Focus on awakening the senses – feel the horse’s fur, touch their mane, feel their warm breathing body while riding

Tips for Working with People with Dementia

  • be polite & patient
  • give directives instead of ask questions they can say “no” to
  • Ok to personify the horse – “your horse is so happy to see you and is waiting for you to get on!”
  • Ok to get close and personal – they like a firm hand supporting them

If you want to learn about dementia and EAAT, see my previous posts:

More Ideas for Dementia Programming!

Prepare for Dementia Programs


  • Climate control
    • participants with dementia may not be able to tell you when they’re too hot or cold
  • A variety of mounting and dismounting techniques
    • Lift
    • Extra riser step for mounting block – they used an aerobics step
    • Know the crest dismount well – it’s usually best for tight hips and fragile skin
    • Be able to dismount close to the arena exit and have a safe close place for assistive devices like walkers and wheelchairs
  • Solid flat surfaces for wheelchairs
  • Accessible restrooms
  • Trails available (preferably)
    • it is very special for the horse to carry them where they may not get to go anymore


  • Instructors
    • should be polite and patient, able to give clear directions, and are okay with “getting up close and personal” as participants may need a lot of firm physical assistance
  • Volunteers
    • they said for this program they tend to be very committed and love it
  • Caregivers
    • have them in the arena to share with the instructor when something might come up and you don’t know how to interpret it
  • Dementia training
    • offer your staff and volunteers training for working with people with dementia (local organizations may be able to do this)


  • Use horses that are:
    • low reactivity
    • slow and steady gait
    • range of base sizes (have lots of horses of different widths and shapes as you will have a big variety of riders)


  • Partner with a longer term care facility who coordinates organizing and bringing participants
  • Determine program dates & time – they found that 10 am is usually best, the afternoon is not so great
  • Determine how many participants you can accommodate – ex) you have enough staff and volunteers for 3 riders at a time x 3 stations = 9 participants total, maybe more if not everyone rides
  • Determine your fee – a flat fee for x# participants, or charge per person?


  • Start preparing really early, a long time before the program runs
  • Collect paperwork
  • Staff visits the dementia care center
    • meet the residents
    • meet their team (nurse, PT, etc.)
    • evaluate the participants (bring a barrel saddle (fake horse) to practice mounting)
    • collect biographical information

Create a Bio Binder

  • A binder with biographies on all the participants
  • So instructors and volunteers can be better prepared to make connections with the participants and know how to respond to them

I feel like this post completes the information about dementia programming on this blog quite nicely. Enjoy!


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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