By Kathryn Hart, founder of ForDyslexia
Dyslexia* is a language based processing disorder with a neurological origin. The exact causes of dyslexia are still not completely clear, but anatomical and brain imagery studies show differences in the way the brain of a dyslexic person develops and functions.
There is no “cure” for dyslexia. It is a condition that will remain with a person for life. However there is remediation, and early intervention can help a child to overcome many of its challenges. Explicit and systematic literary instruction is the basis of this remediation.
Using horses as a therapeutic method for children with difficulties is called hippotherapy or equine assisted therapy. I am interested in how horseback riding might help children with dyslexia and have searched for scientifically-based evidence on this subject without much luck. However, there are a multitude of articles and experiences on the matter that suggest horseback riding does have a positive effect on the progress of a child with dyslexia.
Here are some experts from what I found:
From What Horses Teach:
In Equine Assisted Activities & Therapies (EAAT), I have also had the chance to work with riders with dyslexia. Horseback riding is an opportunity for those with dyslexia to engage in a “right/brain – left/ brain” activity, and there is evidence to suggest this type of activity is beneficial to those with dyslexia or other language processing disorders. Riding is also a kinesthetic activity and those with dyslexia often show proclivity for hands-on learning.
From Pony Pros Press:
Our local newspaper, the Bend Bulletin, is doing an article on one of our scholarship students who has dyslexia. They are interviewing us Tuesday. I mentioned to the writer, Linda Weiford, that I have noticed that people with dyslexia are often particularly good with horses. Linda wonders if I have more info about this phenomena. Anyone have thoughts or leads for me? If you do, please email me!
Here is what I’m hearing so far…
“I have ADD. I think visually before I think verbally. Horses have been a great source of comfort for me because I can communicate with them much easier than I can with my fellow humans.” Susan A. Lennon
“A similar situation that I have been noticing is with a 15 yo girl with ADHD that is learning clicker training! She is soooooooo focused when she is working with a horse or dog, it makes me wonder?? Inability to focus for long periods of time is a symptom of ADHD…” Brenda Buja
“What an interesting subject. I asked my daughter to comment. As a person with sensory processing difficulty, and being an assistant instructor for therapeutic riding, she makes the following observation: ‘Yes, definitely. I have noticed quite consistently that people with sensory processing disorders such as dyslexia often have an affinity with animals. I think it is partly because those people are often visual thinkers, which means they really can ‘think like a horse’ more easily than someone who is a strongly verbal thinker, and partly because they often seem to be more sensitive to sensory stimuli, and therefore notice the kinds of things that animals notice, such as background noise or visual distractions. I think also, though perhaps this is not so universal, those people might pay more attention to body language, as their verbal/auditory processing might not work quite the same way as other people’s.’ (Mary Lynne Mountjoy)
“I have researched this quite a bit. I learned about in because of horsemanship. It has to do with Visual spatial thinking, which dyslexia can be a part of. Horses are visual spatial thinkers and our culture ignores that method of thinking. For the human issue, Upside-down Brilliance by Linda Kreger Silverman in a good resource.
For the horse side, you need to understand how fragile their thinking process is with humans. I have an unspoiled horse herds of about 200+ to play with and some horses that have come back with conventional training, so the difference is huge. The people who think in pictures, (visual spatial) think more like a horse. Read Temple Grandins, thinking in pictures. The audio sequential learners, end up teaching in patterns and pressure and release, which really make no sense to a horse, even though the perform the action, brilliantly at times. It ties in with different brain chemical production, Curiosity the root of visual spatial learning creates dopamine in the brain, a pleasure Chemical. Operant conditioning seems to work with the primitive brain of animal. There is the dual brain theory, where fear is handled by reactions and is almost permanent, and curiosity takes longer, but uses the frontal lobes of the brain (0ff the top of my head).
In humans we have two methods of thinking, visual spatial and audio sequential. Visual spatial is handled by the right lope, audio sequential the left lobe. Horses seem to have two visual spatial lobes, so the primitive brain handles the sequential training, which in not a good deal. Over the past 10 years, I have experimented a lot with horses in this area, and the visual spatial training techniques confuses a lot of audio sequential thinkers. In my professional career, I had to convert my visual spatial thinking process to audio sequential, so even though I cannot learn that way, I can teach and understand that process.” Russ Burns
From Horse Therapy for People:
Horse Therapy not only helps those with PDD and Autism but also with Dyslexia. Developmental reading disorder (dyslexia) is a reading disability that occurs when the brain does not properly recognize and process certain symbols. When you have dyslexia, not only do you have a problem with reading but also with spatial difference and coordination. Just trying to learn how to ride a bike was one of the most challenging things to learn because I didn’t have any coordination. I also have a problem with when to turn into traffic, I like lots of space.
Even though it did take more than just horses to help me with my dyslexia (a lot more) they helped a lot.
When I would ride I had to learn how do use my hands and feet together instead of as separate parts of me. It taught me how to align my body and to work as one with the horse. In all horses have been my life both because of their loving nature and teaching me to coordinate things in my life.
Angela Sklavounos, Overcoming Dyslexia with Dressage
Dealing with Dyslexia
Angela’s mom also hoped it would help her daughter with her dyslexia, “for which it did wonders,” the rider said. While most people think that dyslexia affects only reading, writing and mathematics, the truth is that it also affects many other aspects of a person’s everyday life. Angela knows that for a dyslexic person everything requires double effort, whether that is school, dressage, or even getting a driver’s license.
“Space and time management, short-term memory, hand-eye coordination, as well as the ability to concentrate on a specific test for a long stretch of time are just some of the other skills that are affected by dyslexia,” Sklavounos explained.
Riding in general and particularly dressage is a way for those like Angela to work on those difficulties without them even realizing it.
“You still have to try twice as hard but at least you are not alone, you have your partner, the horse,” said Angela. “By listening to your trainer while coordinating your body to perform the exercises and at the same time keeping an eye on the other horses around you, helps you improve your eye-hand coordination as well as the ability to process and carry out instructions and information As a result, you are more productive in the classroom, like for instance, copying the notes from the board while listening to your teacher and at the same time processing the information.”
Angela adds that in dressage it is rather problematic if you confuse left and right, or you cannot visually calculate distances, like circle sizes, but by practicing and correcting your mistakes you can improve your space management skills.
“You also improve your memory by learning the tests and needless to say you improve your time management skills since you work in a very specific time frame,” Angela added. “You just cannot afford being late for your Prix St. Georges.”
The horse has played the most critical role in Angela’s journey to a better life.
“No horse, to this day at least, has ever condemned me for my spelling! They simply don’t care,” she stated. “They only care about what you have inside your heart! This may sound simple and obvious, but to a child that has almost no friends and is being labeled ‘lazy, stupid or inattentive’ it means the world. In dressage training, for the first time in my life, a trainer, as a teacher, gave me praise without “buts” and praise for the effort.”
Summarising the role of the horse in her life in just three words, Angela says it comes down to love, understanding and support, the “L.U.S” of it!
“If only the people in the immediate environment of a dyslexic child could show the same L.U.S. it would make all the difference,” she said. “This simple mechanism is what makes you never give up in the face of disappointment and ‘breeds’ this positive kind of obstinacy because you really never stop making mistakes. You just learn to correct yourself without anyone else realizing it.”
How Can Horseback Riding Be A Real Good Health Therapy?
Horseback riding is a indeed a very good form of physical therapy for people with a wide range of physical, emotional, cognitive and social special needs. Yes, horses have been used in animal assisted therapy and could do a lot for children to improve from the physical, emotional, mental and social health and has also been useful to riders of all age groups in improving and treating various other disorders too.
Therapeutic horseback riding is therapeutic and helps autistic children to get focus and attention skills and helps them relax. The autistic child develops a special bond with the horse. The horse does not pass judgment on any of their activities nor punish nor scold them, nor make them feel stupid. So the child is able to develop self-confidence and trust, which helps in developing communication skills by talking with ones horse. Looking after the needs of ones horse makes him feel more relaxed too.
In addition, riding helps a lot in motor planning, to build balance and concentration. Yes a young rider said her first words at the age of four when she was riding on horseback and it was, “I love you” to the horse, which lead to faster and further developments. Riding is considered as a form of recreational therapy that is really enjoyable and is used to improve the quality of life of people with degenerative diseases and as a fun therapy for children and adults alike. Riding on horseback is a rapidly growing diversified field and has been recognized for its effectiveness by doctors, therapists and Para-medical people alike.
Yes horseback riding, as a therapy has not left patients of cerebral palsy without any benefit. Horse riding has helped patients of cerebral palsy in the transit from the wheel chair to a walker and then to crutches by helping them to hold themselves erect. In addition when the horse stops walking when a person with a bad balance is helped to balance oneself better thereby strengthening ones vesicular system. Also people with weak body awareness are also able to make self-correcting responses.
It’s true horse riding is considered as a therapeutic animal assisted therapy. This therapy is in line with many other therapies like canine therapy and dolphin therapy, however horse riding as a therapy provides for not only the benefits of a special bonding with an animal but also provides the benefit of the motion of the horse, coupled with increase in concentration to acquire riding skills and an increase in communication skills which is acquired by talking to the instructor and therapist. This has benefited many people with different disabilities.
Yes, you are perfectly right horse therapy involving movement of the horse has helped many people of all ages to benefit from exercise to the back, buttocks, legs, ankles, knees, hips; in fact it benefits all the small muscles and joints throughout the body as riding influences ones full body. This therapy of riding on horseback has helped a number of people with neurological and joint disorders along with immobility and balance.
You sure can help people with cognitive and sensory disabilities by horseback riding, These include disorders like: mental retardation, autism, brain damage, Down Syndrome, developmental disorders, ADD/ADHD, dyslexia and learning disabilities. The act of horseback riding requires attention, reasoning power, memory and concentration, besides helping in other aspects knowledge building and intellectual stimulation. A horse’s motion, feel, smell and sight of the horse helps the rider to focus on sensory information and gives the student time to process this information.
To conclude, all people with emotional, social and psychological disorders would benefit from horseback riding. Yes it is a good therapy; leads to increased confidence and self-concept and promote social stimulation. Horseback riding demonstrates to one and all about the important attributes of a fruitful relationship. Yes riding horseback enables and empowers people to connect on the personal level. And lastly the unpredictable nature of animals makes for illustration of real life situations where people get over their fears and are able to make adjustments easily in their lives.
To download early literacy app, Alphabetics, follow this link.
*The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as “a language-based learning disability. Dyslexia refers to a cluster of symptoms, which result in people having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading. Students with dyslexia usually experience difficulties with other language skills such as spelling, writing, and pronouncing words. Dyslexia affects individuals throughout their lives; however, its impact can change at different stages in a person’s life. It is referred to as a learning disability because dyslexia can make it very difficult for a student to succeed academically in the typical instructional environment, and in its more severe forms, will qualify a student for special education, special accommodations, or extra support services.”