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Benefits of Equine-Assisted Activities

PHYSICAL CONDITIONING: The activity of riding closely simulates human gait. The warmth from the horse and the rhythmical motion provides relaxation to spastic muscles. Exercises done on the horse are designed to improve balance, endurance, range of motion, and strength.


INCENTIVE FOR LEARNING AND REALIZING POTENTIAL: For many participants the enjoyment derived from this experience will encourage them to attempt new tasks and perhaps discover hidden proficiencies. Other participants may leave this program with a heightened sense of self awareness and capability. But for all participants this experience will create an inward challenge allowing the participant to perceive himself or herself more positively and accurately.


Carriage driving at HETRA is conducted outdoors. Along withenvironment awareness, driving has many physical benefits including improved hand-eye coordination, motor skills, muscular strength, and stability. Cognitive skills include sequencing, and right/left discrimination, spatial and directional awareness.

Carriage Driving

AN ATMOSPHERE OF LOVE AND SECURITY: In the last several years the use of animals in therapy has sharply increased. Experts recognize the significance of the bond formed between man and animal. The participant is taught not only how to ride, but also how to handle and care for the horse. In turn this large warm friendly animal provides a symbol of strength stability and friendship for the participant.


Learning skills and mastering a task can provide an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment and achievement. This can be an immeasurable benefit to the confidence and self worth of the participant.



Sensory processing refers to the brain’s ability to take in, analyze and respond to information from the body’s five senses. The barn environment is a vast set of sensory experiences, including the barn’s noises and smells. A horse is a myriad of varying textures; velvety muzzle, coarse mane, smooth body hair, and hard hooves. Postural responses are facilitated when working on various barn activities including carrying a bucket with grooming tools, bending to brush a horse’s knee, placing the saddle on the horse or riding.


Grooming a horse works to improve tactile responses and motor planning skills because of the demand for various senses and skills. The repetitive movement of grooming assists with cognitive retraining. The areas of fine and gross motor function and muscle tone can be influenced by a routine participants must follow when grooming or tacking a horse. Cognitive areas such as sequencing, verbal and non-verbal

HETRA Student Progress

Groundwork and Classroom Educational Components In Place of Riding

From time to time HETRA must cancel general riding sessions due to weather or horse-related issues. When this occurs, participants have the opportunity to engage in equine-specific learning activity that includes an endless variety of developmental components. These activities are utilized in our year-round Life Skills program so are easily and readily transferable to any participant, any age, and any developmental level. This is a terrific opportunity for participants to expand their knowledge and continue to grow at HETRA. Volunteers sit in on the sessions and assist if needed. This elevates the level of knowledge throughout our entire HETRA community adding tremendous value and depth organization-wide.

Here are just a few activities that have already been implemented:

Horse Feed: Alfalfa, Grass, and Timothy Pellets. Bulk pelleted grain, Senior Grain.
Learn about different types of hay, why we feed different kinds- nutritional value, and horse needs/restrictions. Students examine hay, compare stem/leave differences, smell, and feel. Discuss different types of grain, and the nutrition in each.  Students get to smell, feel, and examine each type.  Take 2oz water in two cups add in a pinch of senior grain in one cup, timothy pellets in the other – let soak. Explain why we can soak the grain and hay pellets and how the pellets mush apart and feel compared to dry. 
Horse Health: Colic, recognizing sick vs. not sick, basic equine vital signs.
Discussed Colic, the causes, and treatment. Discuss heart rate, respiration rate, capillary refill time, dehydration/pinch test, and gut sounds. Participants then go into the arena and practice how to take those signs. 
Participant:  ” I had fun learning more about horses.” 
Volunteer: “I learned more about colic today than I knew beforehand.” 
Parelli Seven Games / Groundwork Games:
Back up/Approach – yo-yo game; Sending game – send out on a circle then over obstacles; Hide-the-hiney – disengage hindquarters; Following game/join up on lead. Work on concepts of pressure/release, ask-tell-make, reward each try, and body language/respect of space.