What can I expect during horseback riding therapy for multiple sclerosis?

Judy Heath, a co-facilitator of The Villages MS Support Groups (MSVP) shared her experience with horseback riding therapy for multiple sclerosis:

Each hour-long session begins with the riders brushing their horses. (Horses have been matched to the rider's ability.) This introduces the rider to the horse and is soothing for both rider and horse. After mounting their horse each rider is evaluated according to their abilities to determine if additional accommodations are needed.

The staff and volunteers work individually with riders who need additional assistance. For those who experience balance and/or spasticity problems, adjustments can be made to make them feel more secure. For example, a rider who leans to one side because of tightness in the muscles on that side of the body may wear a belt with handles on each side. This allows the side walkers to straighten the rider's body. Most ride with English saddles, but those who have difficulty sitting on a saddle ride on a blanket without a saddle.

Our class of five rode under a large, covered pavilion with a volunteer walking the horse on a lead and two side walkers. While we got used to the feel of the horse's movement, we focused on the position of our body and maintained good posture.

After circling the pavilion several times, we rode to the center of the ring, released the reins and began upper body exercises and stretches. This not only works the arms, but also encourages good posture and balance while strengthening the muscles of the torso.

Throughout the class, the instructors coached us on our position in the saddle and stressed that each of us should progress at the level of our ability. If we had pain, muscles spasms, or other discomfort, we stopped riding while we adjusted our position or stretched the affected area to relieve the problem.

In addition to working the upper body, we worked the muscles of the thigh and leg. As our horse approached a narrow board on the ground, we pushed our body off the saddle and then sat when the horse stepped over the beam. We repeated the exercise.

Lifting off the saddle by pushing into the stirrups worked the muscles of the thigh and leg. Another exercise for leg strengthening is the two-point position, which involves grabbing the horse's mane, leaning forward over its neck and pushing our body off the saddle into a position similar to a jockey's.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.