Riding for the Handicapped is widely recognized as one of the most beneficial types of therapeutic recreation available. It helps develop self-awareness, builds self-confidence, self-discipline, and improves concentration. Horseback riding also improves posture, balance and coordination, increases joint mobility, strengthens and relaxes muscles.
A riding program gives the handicapped a feeling of freedom and independence and an awareness of body in space that would be very difficult to obtain by conventional therapy. Exercising the spirit as well as the body provides an enormous boost for volunteers and participants alike.
Therapeutic riding for the handicapped began in Scandinavia shortly after Liz Hartle won the silver medal for Olympic dressage, despite being handicapped by polio. Her success inspired Mrs. Bodthker, a Norwegian therapist to establish a therapeutic riding program for children disabled with polio. This practice soon spread to England in the late 1950's where a center for therapeutic riding was built in Chigwell. It became the center of its kind to be built specifically for therapeutic riding.
Horseback riding for the handicapped grew to become recognized as one of the most modern forms of progressive therapeutic recreation. Currently, there are more than 400 riding for the handicapped centers in operation in the United States.
In 1969 the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) was formed to coordinate the efforts of those working in this growing field. NARHA functions as an advisory and regulatory body, dedicated to promoting horseback riding for the handicapped.