How to Teach an Autistic Child to Ride a Horse

Autistic children may need a little more guidance when it comes to riding horses. With a little patience and respect, you can help them work up the confidence to get on a horse and try it out. Once they feel ready, they may love the experience.

Steps

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    Create a friendly, low-pressure environment. The child will feel less nervous if they feel that they are in control. If they want to stop, or take a break, or do something else, pay close attention to what they say and do it.
    • If the child doesn't want to ride the horse, don't pressure them. Ask if they would like to take some time first, or if they would like to leave. Perhaps a quieter hobby would be more suitable.
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    Introduce steps one at a time. Autistic children may have sensory issues that make new experiences seem especially intense or frightening, so it's important to take it slowly. For example, let them try on the helmet and wander around with it to get used to it before putting them on the horse.
    • Explain how each step works. This will help them anticipate what will happen next, and understand the bigger picture.
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    Choose a small, calm horse for them to ride, and avoid showing them the larger or easily-spooked horses. If they get scared by a horse, they may be resistant to the idea of riding one.
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    Acquaint them with the idea of riding horses first. Give a kid-friendly explanation of what will go on, and let them meet the horse. Answer any questions they might have, and offer to let them feed the horse a carrot or sugar cube.
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    Ask if they are ready to get on the horse before putting them on. This way, the child feels in control of the situation, and will feel proud for being brave and succeeding. When the child says they are ready, help them up and go.
    • If the child has any doubts, validate their feelings and be honest. Reassure them and explain how helmets and the expert instructor will keep them safe. Then encourage them to be brave. If they respond positively, they might be ready.
    • Try letting them bring a stim toy or a small comfort object on the ride. (Have them wear pockets if possible.)
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    Encourage the child during the ride. Praise will help the child gain confidence and recognize that they are doing well. It can also reassure them if they are still nervous. Make them feel like a star.
    • "Yay, you're doing it!"
    • "Way to go, Isabelle!"
    • "Look at you, riding so confidently!"
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    After the ride, offer conversation, but don't push it. If the child is in a talkative mood, they might be happy to answer questions about whether they liked it and what they thought. If they are tired, then give them quiet time.
    • If you are a parent/caregiver, schedule some quiet time after the horseback riding session. They might be worn out, and stimming, engaging with their special interests, or doing something they find relaxing will help them rebalance.
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    Ask them if they would like to do it again, and give them time to think about it. It may take a while for such a big experience to sink in, and for them to figure out exactly how they feel about it. Ask them, and let them know that they don't have to answer right away: they can tell you once they have decided.

Tips

  • Trust your instincts if you think the child is being pushed too hard, or if they need a break. These gut feelings are often right.
  • Consider the heat. If your child is wearing a helmet and other safety equipment, they could get hot, especially if it's warm out. Give them ice water, and encourage them to communicate any discomforts (if they can).

Sources and Citations

Article Info

Categories: Coaching Autistic People | Horses