The condition can be extremely isolating for individuals who often have a profound lack of contact with other people, make no eye contact and struggle with verbal communication even though they understand language.
Horse riding has been shown to have both immediate and long term physical, psychological, social and educational benefits for adults and children living with autism.
Physical contact with the horse may help to develop other relationships and reduce tactile defensiveness, through touching the horse and interaction with instructors and volunteers.
The rhythmic movement of the horse may help calm the distress often experienced when in a strange environment and resistance to change is improved as autistic children and adults are steadily introduced to new horses, volunteers and activities.
Group lessons provide riders with the opportunity to join in with others introducing the idea of teamwork and appropriate social behaviour such as saying please and thank you. Sessions can also be planned to include an educational element, learning numbers, colours and patterns to help improve memory and concentration. Of the 56 Accessibility Mark approved riding centres nationwide, autistic riders make up a large percentage of participants, with centres reporting the calming effect as the number one benefit of riding.
Grove House Stables LLP based in Misterton, Nottinghamshire, was one of the first centres to sign up for Accessibility Mark accreditation and teaches a number of autistic riders every week.
Owner and British Equestrian Federation Expert Recreational Coach, Andrew Stennett, has seen the benefits of horse riding over many years. Said Andrew: “Having taught autistic adults and children to ride for over 20 years, I have experienced first-hand the many benefits. The tremendous intervention of horses helps to build confidence, improve well-being and self-esteem and has become a fundamental part of the lives of individuals and groups, which adds to their education and life skills.
“On a personal note, I have taught an autistic rider for two decades and his progress and enjoyment of riding has been inspirational and given so much to the coaches and staff that he works with.”
Accessibility Mark status is awarded to a riding centre that has been approved by the RDA following training and assessment. The close link with the RDA means that it can offer continuous support to the establishment to ensure it provides a first-class experience that aims to be hugely beneficial to riders of varying levels of disability.
There are currently 56 Accessibility Mark-approved centres across the country.
To find your nearest RDA Group or Accessibility Mark centre visit www.rda.org.uk