Horseback Riding Therapy: Definition, Benefits, and FAQs

Horseback Riding Therapy

As someone that has ridden horses for years, I can attest that horseback riding is one of the greatest forms of therapy. Not only does it help you improve your physical and mental dexterity, but it also gives you confidence that transfers over into other areas of your life.

What exactly is horseback riding therapy? Horseback riding therapy is a type of recreational therapy that involves an individual with little to no riding experience working with a trained riding instructor. The instructor teaches the student basic horseback riding and training techniques that improve the student’s cognitive, emotional, and physical wellbeing. 

As a rapidly growing form of therapy for individuals of all ages, physical conditions, and abilities, horseback riding therapy has proven itself to be highly beneficial. In this post, we will take a closer look into how horseback riding therapy differs from regular riding as well as the many benefits of this unique form of therapy.

Horseback Riding Therapy Benefits and Uses 

horse therapy studentsThere are countless reasons why I am proud to be an equestrian and horse lover. I will never lose my passion for the many ways that horseback riding can benefit us as humans. There is nothing quite like the confidence, peace, and excitement that you have after spending some time with your equine companion.

Horseback Riding Therapy Definition

Horseback riding therapy is an equine-assisted form of therapy that has proven beneficial for individuals of all ages and abilities. Therapeutic horseback riding is typically overseen by a team of professionals, one of which is a certified therapeutic riding instructor.

Participants engage in activities both on the horse and off the horse that can improve their mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing. While this practice is certainly enjoyable, it also provides a great form of exercise that can benefit an individual’s balance, posture, coordination, and overall muscle control.

Benefits of Horseback Riding Therapy

Just like horseback riding for pleasure, there are countless benefits to horseback riding therapy. Here are just of the many ways that horseback riding therapy benefits the rider.

Physical Health Benefits

Horseback riding therapy is often recommended for its many physical benefits including the following: 

Improves Balance: Horseback riding requires immense amounts of balance. Especially for the beginner rider, this can be quite exhausting. However, over time, horseback riding therapy can help to improve the balance of participants. 

Improves Coordination: Participating in therapeutic horseback riding allows the rider to work on their motor planning and reflexes including eye-hand coordination.

Strengthens Muscles: Riding is a great way to develop and strengthen muscles throughout the body. Because horseback riding is seen as a fun activity, it can be a great way to introduce exercise to an otherwise hesitant individual.

Improves Blood Circulation: For individuals who are otherwise rather sedentary, horseback riding therapy provides a great opportunity for blood circulation and cardiovascular exercise. 

Increases Range of Motion: Therapeutic horseback riding involves stretching both on and off the horse. This provides an increased range of motion and relaxation to muscles and tendons throughout the body.

Mental Health Benefits

horse therapy lessonTherapeutic horseback riding not only benefits the riders’ physical health but also their mental health.

Improves Self-Confidence: Riding a horse provides anyone with a boost to their self-confidence. Oftentimes, individuals who participate in horseback riding therapy struggle with other tasks. The accomplishment of successfully riding their equine friend is exhilarating.

Provides a Sense of Well-Being: Fresh air is good for the soul. Horseback riding therapy provides an opportunity to breathe deeply and enjoy the many benefits of the sun shining down on your back. This provides a sense of well-being that is crucial to overall mental health.

Develops Patience: Any equestrian will be quick to share the amount of patience necessary to manage a horse. Therapeutic horseback riding is no different. This practice can help develop patience in a way that is beneficial to other areas of life.

Improves Emotional Control: One of the first lessons that you learn in the world of horses is that a horse can sense your emotion. In horseback riding therapy, riders are taught the same lesson. This leads to improved emotional control both on and off the horse.

Emotional Health Benefits

Finally, horseback riding therapy offers several emotional health benefits including the following:

Provides Companionship: In many cases, individuals who participate in therapeutic horseback riding have unique situations or life experiences. This can lead to loneliness and isolation. Both fellow riders, instructors, and horses provide companionship that can lead to improved emotional health.

Provides Opportunity for Excitement: We all benefit from having things to look forward to each week. Horseback riding therapy is not only a great workout but also an enjoyable experience. 

These are, of course, just a few of the countless benefits of participating in horseback riding therapy. No matter your age or ability, therapeutic horseback riding can improve your physical, mental, and emotional health.

Other Types of Equine Therapy 

There are several types of equine therapy in addition to horseback riding therapy. Each one has a unique focus and provides a unique set of benefits. Here are a few of the most popular types of equine therapy: 

Equine-Assisted Learning

Equine-assisted learning, or EAL for short, uses a variety of equine-assisted activities to promote educational, professional, and personal goals. EAL is regulated by a strict set of guidelines to ensure that the integrity of the field is preserved. 

When participating in equine-assisted learning, individuals will perform a variety of mounted and unmounted tasks that have been carefully planned to help them achieve their goals.


Hippotherapy is any form of physical, occupational, or speech therapy that utilizes equine movement. Often part of an integrated treatment program, this type of equine therapy helps individuals with disabilities, physical impairments, or functional limitations. Most often, a hippotherapy treatment plan is strategically designed by a team of therapists that may include physical therapists, occupational therapists, or speech pathologists.

Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy  

One of the most fascinating forms of equine therapy is Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy. Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy, or EFP, requires both a licensed mental health professional and a certified equine therapy professional. In this field of equine therapy, these professionals work together to help their clients address psychotherapy goals that have been identified.

Equine-Assisted Therapy

In equine-assisted therapy, individuals participate in a variety of equine activities to work towards rehabilitation. In many cases, this may simply be an involvement in the equestrian environment until the individual is ready to move towards horseback riding therapy.

It is important to note that any type of horseback riding therapy or equine-assisted practice requires the oversight and direction of a certified professional.

Frequently Asked Horseback Riding Therapy Questions

As with many aspects of the equine world, there are many questions surrounding horseback riding therapy. 

Is Therapeutic Horseback Riding Covered by Insurance?

This is a complex question with a complex answer. Although incredibly beneficial to riders, therapeutic horseback riding is considered a recreational activity. Because of this, it is not covered by insurance.

Hippotherapy, however, is a practice that is monitored by a physical therapist, occupational therapist, or speech pathologist. Because of this, hippotherapy is covered by most health insurance plans.

There are supplemental forms of insurance that cover equine-assisted therapy and horseback riding therapy. Additionally, several foundations and organizations that offer scholarships for this incredibly beneficial practice.

What is the Difference Between Hippotherapy & Equine Therapy?

Hippotherapy is a form of physical therapy, occupational therapy, or speech therapy that utilizes equine-assisted activities. In hippotherapy, the process is overseen by a professional therapist and used as a portion of an overall treatment plan. Because of this, hypnotherapy is covered by most health insurance plans.

Equine therapy, on the other hand, is overseen by a certified therapeutic riding instructor or an individual certified in equine therapy. While it is still highly beneficial, it is seen by insurance as a recreational activity and, because of this, is not covered by most health insurance plans.

What is the Best Breed of Horses for Therapy? 

Many horse breeds are used for equine therapy. The best breed of horse for therapy, however, is the Quarter horse. Other breeds that are commonly used include Haflinger ponies for children and draft horses such as the Percheron or Belgian for adults. Horses used for any form of equine-therapy must be calm, docile, and friendly. 

How Do You Become Certified in Equine Therapy? 

Depending on the area of equine therapy in which you wish to become involved, there will be different requirements for certification. The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH) is one of the most well-respected organizations for this endeavor. There are several paths to receiving certification through PATH. However, the final step is to complete a riding demonstration, written exam, and several demonstrations.

Other organizations that offer equine therapy certification include the following:


Utilizing horseback riding therapy can be an excellent way to develop an even greater appreciation for horses while improving the physical, mental, and emotional health of your riders. 

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My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

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