As the horse moves, the rider is constantly thrown off-balance, requiring that the rider's muscles contract and relax in an attempt to re-balance. This exercise reaches deep muscles not accessible in conventional physical therapy.
The three-dimensional rhythmical movement of the horse is similar to the motion of walking, teaching rhythmical patterns to the muscles of the legs and trunk. By placing the rider in different positions on the horse (therapeutic vaulting), we can work different sets of muscles. Stopping and starting the horse, changing speed and changing direction increase the benefits.
Muscles are strengthened by the increased use involved in riding. Even though riding is exercise, it is perceived as enjoyment, and therefore the rider has increased tolerance and motivation to lengthen the period of exercise.
Improved coordination, faster reflexes, and better motor planning.
Riding a horse requires a great deal of coordination in order to get the desired response from the horse. Since the horse provides instant feedback to every action by the rider, it is easy to know when you have given the correct cue. Repetition of patterned movements required in controlling a horse quickens the reflexes and aids in motor planning.
Stretching of tight or spastic muscles
Sitting on a horse requires stretching of the adductor muscles of the thighs. This is accomplished by pre-stretching prior to mounting the horse, and starting the rider off on a narrow horse, gradually working to wider and wider horses. Gravity helps to stretch the calf muscles as the rider sits on the horse without stirrups. Riding with stirrups helps to stretch the heel cords. Stomach and back muscles are stretched as the rider is encouraged to maintain an upright posture against the movement of the horse. Arm and hand muscles are stretched as part of routine exercises on the horse and by the act of holding and using the reins.