Feb. 5, 2017

Therapeutic Horse Riding

Over the last month, I have been doing work experience at Shore Farm Pony Therapy in Killala, Co. Mayo. I’ve been working closely with Emer Quinn, the person behind it and she has been a wonderful teacher. I’ve learnt so much about therapeutic horse riding, courses and colleges, it has really helped me with my future. She kindly agreed to help me with this blog post and I knew I wanted to write about therapeutic horse riding because I don’t think people realise how important it is so let’s get started!


What are the benefits of therapeutic horse riding?

I suppose there are 4 main benefits to children:

  • Communication: In Shore Farm Pony Therapy, we see different means of communication such as Lámh and PECS. As sessions are done on a one to one basis, communication is the first area we work on. Social and functional language is developed through the medium of Bobo and Albert. Each session has a leader, coach, pony and rider participating, this allows opportunity to work on asking questions, instructing the pony to go, conversing with multiple people and building on areas such as responsibility, teamwork and trust.
  • Sensory: The sessions are completed outdoors. Riders are exposed to tactile touch through different texture. Riders hear different noises and sounds in the natural environment. The vestibular system is simulated by the movement of the ponies and the changes of direction. There is a lot of visual input received from the environment. Bobo and Albert are sensitive, gentle and their warmth helps children to relax and interact with the ponies.
  • Educational: Concentration, focus, fine motor skills, sequencing, co-ordination, labelling, communication, self – directed learning. These are just a few of the skills that child can grow and build on. Numeracy and literacy fun activities are included in each session and are tailored to the educational goals of the child. These build children’s self-esteem and self-confidence.
  • Physical: Therapeutic riding improves muscle tone, co-ordination, balance, posture, flexibility, increases circulation and promote overall health. Occupational Therapists and Physios recommend specific exercises for some children and they are built into their individual session.


What can you find on a sensory trail?

Sensory trails are a safe way to explore senses and nature. We are so lucky to live right beside Killala Bay. The shoreline provides us with a natural sensory trail and is an opportunity to participate in a tranquil calm environment. Fun activities include: splashing in the water, quacking like a duck and searching for seals.

We have recently built a purpose built sensory trail. A variety of fun games and activities are on the trail which encourages stretching, reaching, touching, lifting, balance, co-ordination and communication.

There are different activity stations along the trail to work on different senses, colour and shape identification. Children get the opportunity to explore nature and try new things.

The sensory trail was developed around gently challenging the participants balance, co-ordination, stimulating their senses and interacting with nature.

At the start of the sensory trail is a station with different types of edible herbs to explore taste. Along the trail, we have planted different flowers for the visual stimulation.

Our purpose built sensory trail has two water features – purpose built mounds to improve mobility and to discover a new freedom in movement, different footing terrain to feel different types of movement and various sounds of clip-clop.


What’s the best part of the job?

The best part of the job is seeing the pony and child bond. I may be biased but we are so lucky to have two of the kindest and most gentle ponies. I get a great sense of joy when the children achieve their individual goal – whether it’s a child instructing a pony to go or encouraging the leader to join in on a song.


What responsibilities does the pony have?

The pony has many responsibilities:

  • To offer reassurance and friendship to the children
  • The pony’s 3-dimensional movement is important as it moves the riders body in a rhythmic and gentle movement similar to that of humans. The pony mirrors the feelings of the child.
  • The heat off the pony is transmitted through the rider reducing spasms, improves balance and muscle tone.  
  • The pony can be a motivator for the child. The pony is a partner rather than a tool.


What is the main difference of therapeutic horse riding and equestrian horse riding?

Therapeutic horse riding sessions can be a starting point for equestrian horse riding as children will have built up skills such as co-ordination, balance and fine motor skills.

Therapeutic horse riding sessions set individualised goals and are done on a one-to-one basis and aren’t competition focused.

Therapeutic sessions use a roller and pad instead of a saddle so the rider is closer to the pony and can feel the heat and movement of the pony.


I’d like to thank Emer for taking the time to answer my questions and for everything she’s done for me over the past month. I’d also like to give a special thank you to Bobo and Albert, the brilliant ponies of Shore Farm Pony Therapy who have being very patient with me through this whole process!

If you’d like to get in contact with Emer, you can email @shorefarmponytherapy or call 087 211 0129.

Thank you so much for reading,

Freya xx