Horseback riding: The healing experience for autistic people

KUWAIT: At several Kuwait horse stables, parents take their kids with special needs or those diagnosed with autism to ride horses aiming to improve their condition, working with doctors and specialists to benefit from their successful experiences treating those kids, and seeking information from medical institutes on the positive effects of horseback riding. Consultant developmental pediatrician Dr. Abeer Awadh said that any movement skill can have a good effect on autistic kids, whether it’s horseback riding, swimming, or any other sport, noting that it’s important to keep them away from electric devices as much as possible.

She noted that it is possible to heal autism if it is tackled in its early stages through different treatment methods, including horseback riding, as well as cooperation between parents, doctors, and trainers. On her part, owner of Al-Muzaini Equestrian Maai Al-Muzaini told KUNA that three years ago, she established Al-Muzaini Equestrian in Abu Al-Hassany area to help treat her son, and as she saw his condition improve, she opened the stable, offering services for low fees for the sake of kids with special needs and autism to help them get treated as well.

Al-Muzaini explained that the horse’s walk impacts the blood circulation of kids with autism, which in turn helps increase their concentration, in addition to the horse’s body warmth, which helps calm them down. Through successful experiences, it has been shown that autistic kids do not necessarily have to enroll in specific training courses because horseback riding is enough to start their healing process, Al-Muzaini added, noting that it can also help hyperactive kids. Al-Muzaini also started a monthly seminar called “You’re Not Alone” to exchange expertise between mothers and benefit from successful experiences, in addition to organizing a periodic session to communicate with horses, aimed at enhancing the kid’s linguistic skills.

On her part, Specialist Samar Al-Kandari said to KUNA that during her experience treating kids with special needs or autism at Kuwait Riding Center (KRC Stars), she noticed that most cases of autism improved, as well as their psychological health and social skills, stressing the need to enroll them in training sessions at an early age for better results. Dr. Dalal Al-Mansouri, who also works as a trainer at KRC Stars, said that autistic kids don’t have a sense of danger, so they let the kids sit on the horse without a saddle to help simulate a sense of caution and be more stable on the horse.

In a statement to KUNA, Reem Al-Sabbagh, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), noted the importance of horseback riding in enhancing social skills and emotional understanding, considering it encourages empathy and understanding of non-verbal communication through interacting with horses, adding that this method can help alleviate stress, enhance calmness, movement skills, and balance. On his part, horseback riding coach for kids with special needs and autism Ahmad Al-Omran said to KUNA that he uses hippotherapy, a technique he learned in Germany, to help improve the kid’s back, hip, and leg muscles, which essentially helps them balance and leads to feeling more confident.

Al-Omran recommended using old European horses because they are calmer than Arabian ones, which can be unstable if they are not specifically trained for this field. He called upon the concerned authorities to establish a center specializing in hippotherapy for all those with special needs and autism, to make equestrianism free or at a minimal price, and to open more equestrianism centers in Kuwait. Al-Omran noted his keenness on raising awareness about equestrianism and its therapeutic effects via his podcast, where he interviews trainers, players, and specialists in nutrition. — KUNA

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