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Horse Riding is available in South Africa for persons with various disabilities, as a Sport, Hobby and as various forms of Therapy, known as Horse Riding Therapy and Hippotherapy or Equine Therapy. There are many benefits of animal-assisted activities and therapies, which have been recognized recently and are becoming more well known.
Working and interacting with horses can have a major physical and emotional impact on adults and children of almost all ages with a wide variety of issues and disabilities, including Physical disabilities or Mobility Impairments. These benefits include Recreational; Therapeutic Benefits; Mental Benefits; Physical Benefits and Encourages Socializing. Horse Riding as a Sport, Hobby and as various forms of Therapy is available in most Provinces in South Africa and is supplied by companies and organizations such as Tumanako Equine Therapy and Equestrian is also one of the sports that are available for persons with Mobility Impairments at the Paralympics.

Tumanako Equine Therapy: is run by Andrew and Jolene Rowland and offers Special Needs Riding for a wide variety of special needs individuals of all ages, as well as offering practical, hands-on experiences to help introduce newcomers to this unique form of therapy.

Operating since 2007, Tumanako is a specialised practice that utilises horses to provide a multi-disciplinary therapeutic approach that encompasses the fields of Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy, Psychology and Speech Therapy.Tumanako

Many studies have been conducted overseas with regards to the effects of Hippotherapy:  improvements in joint mobility, balance and coordination, relaxation of spasticity, increased muscle power, increased self-confidence through improved self-image, improved learning, concentration, spatial awareness of neurologically impaired individuals and more.

Tumanako operates Tuesdays to Sundays and offers long and short-term treatments depending on the needs of the client. Cost structures are applied accordingly. The sessions are carried out under the strictest of safety standards, which typically involves the therapist, horse leader and side-walkers, and are designed to address the physical needs of the client as well as to assist in developing social skills. The aim of the treatment is to make it as fun as possible, while ensuring optimum therapeutic benefits.

If you require any of the services listed above, or are a medical professional interested in treating your own clients with Tumanako, please contact Andrew Rowland (082 782-1103) or Jolene Rowland (081 588-1086) for more details. Email:, website:, or search “Tumanako Equine Therapy” on Facebook. You can also visit us at: Hartzenbergfontein Estate, Walkerville, Johannesburg South.

Contact Tumanako on the details above if you are in Gauteng, or visit our Health Care - Search Facility and search for a "Hippo, Equine & Horse Riding Therapy", or click on the "Read More" link below to find more about Horse Riding for persons with disabilities, as a Sport, Hobby and as various forms of Therapy.

Persons With Mobility Impairments Who Benefit From Horse Riding

As mentioned above, Horse Riding provides many benefits and is available in South Africa, as a Sport in Equestrian events, a form of Therapy or just for fun as a Hobby. Persons with varying forms of Mobility Impairments can benefit from Horse Riding, including persons with:

  • Amputations
  • Brain Injuries
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Cerebrovascular Accident (CVA) / Stroke
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Spina Bifida
  • Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)

Read More: .....


Equestrian is the sport of Horseback Riding and includes Riding, Driving, Steeplechasing or Vaulting with horses. It is a competitive sport in the Olympics and became a part of the Paralympic Games for the first time in 1996 in Atlanta.

It is open to athletes with any type of Physical or Visual Impairment. Events are mixed and grouped according to their functional profiles.

Athletes can compete in dressage events, a championship test of set movements and a freestyle test to music. There is also a team test that involves three to four members. Riders are judged on their display of horsemanship skills and are permitted to use devices such as dressage crops, connecting rein bars, rubber bands and other aids.


Riders are assigned to five different sport classes. Para-equestrian dressage riding consists of five sport classes called ‘grades’ for athletes with Physical and Visual impairments. Lower grades indicate more severe activity limitations and higher grades include athletes with less severe activity limitations. The Grades for persons with Mobility Impairments include:

Grade Ia - Athletes who have severe impairments affecting all limbs and the trunk, these athletes usually require the use of a wheelchair in daily life.

Grade Ib - These Athletes here have either a severe impairment of the trunk and minimal impairment of the upper limbs or moderate impairment of the trunk, upper and lower limbs. Most athletes in this class use a wheelchair in daily life.

Grade II - Athletes in this class have severe impairments in both lower limbs with minimal or no impairment of the trunk or moderate impairment of the upper and lower limbs and trunk. Some athletes in this class may use a wheelchair in daily life.

Grade III - Athletes in grade III have a severe impairment or deficiency of both upper limbs or a moderate impairment of all four limbs or short stature. Athletes in grade III are able to walk and generally do not require a wheelchair in daily life. Grade III also includes athletes having a visual impairment equivalent to B1 (very low visual acuity and/ or no light perception).

Grade IV - Athletes here have a mild impairment of range of movement or muscle strength or a deficiency of one limb or mild deficiency of two limbs. Grade IV also includes athletes with visual impairment equivalent to B2 (higher visual acuity than visually impaired athletes) competing in the grade III sport class and/ or a visual field of less than five degrees radius.

Athletes with the following impairments are eligible to compete in para-equestrian:

  • Impaired muscle power
  • Athetosis
  • Impaired passive range of movement
  • Hypertonia
  • Limb deficiency
  • Ataxia
  • Leg length difference
  • Short stature
  • Visual impairment

There are a number of Horse Riding or Equestrian organizations or clubs available for persons with disabilities in South Africa, including SASCOC, The South African Equestrian Association-SAEA and the South African Equestrian Federation.

Read More: ....

Hippotherapy & Equine-assisted Therapy

Hippotherapy is sometimes referred to as Equine-assisted Activity or Equine-assisted Therapy. It is an effective form of therapy for a range of physical, emotional, and cognitive special needs. Today, Hippotherapy is recognized as one of the most progressive forms of therapy. As the number of people seeking treatment in non-clinical settings has increased, hippotherapy has become as popular as it is effective. Using the movement of the horse as the strategy of choice has resulted in improved functional outcomes for a wide variety of patients.

Hippotherapy is defined as the use of the horse’s movement as an approach to address emotional, psychological, and physical impairments, functional limitations, and disabilities in patients.  Hippotherapy may be conducted by someone who is a licensed or registered physical therapist, occupational therapist, or speech-language pathologist.


In Hippotherapy, the horse influences the rider rather than the rider controlling the horse. The rider actively responds to the horse’s movement, which the therapist directs. In addition, a volunteer handler who is specially trained in working with Hippotherapy horses is usually on hand. The therapist analyzes the client’s responses, and adjusts the treatment accordingly.

A therapist can become eligible to take the Hippotherapy Classes if they have passed the Hippotherapy Clinical Specialty Certification Examination. The therapist is eligible to take the certification by:

  • practicing for at least three years (or 6,000 hours)
  • and has had at least 100 Hippotherapy hours over a period of three years.

Once the Therapist has passed the Hippotherapy Clinical Specialty Certification Examination, the therapist is qualified for five years.


From the beginning, the rider learns balance, coordination, and self-assurance while receiving muscle stimulation. Some of the other physical benefits of Hippotherapy may include:

  • Improved posture.
  • Strengthened muscles.
  • Improved range of motion.

The rhythm of the horse’s gait is much like that of the human walk, and therefore Therapeutic Riding and Hippotherapy is beneficial for a number of physical disabilities. It is most commonly used for muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, amputation, paralysis, and spina bifida.

Read More: .....

The difference between riding therapy and Hippotherapy is that the therapists who practise Hippotherapy are medically trained, like Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists or Speech Therapists. They practise Hippotherapy with a specific aim, whereas, Riding Therapists hope to improve general psychological well-being.

Both Hippotherapy and Riding Therapy are beneficial for concentration and self-awareness. The rhythm, strength and warmth of the horses makes persons with disabilities feel comfortable. This therapy process includes teaching the individual horse riding skills.

Horse Riding Therapy

A child’s mental attitude will also improve with Horse-Riding Therapy. Over and above developing the potential of the individual’s feelings of self-confidence, self-esteem, and independence are nurtured as seen in current practice. Horse-riding also teaches self-discipline, daring, control and techniques which are applicable in many other situations.

In addition to the physical benefits, there are many psychological benefits. The ability to handle the horse often inspires self-confidence, responsibility, and teamwork. The rider often learns to trust through the horse-and-rider bond, as communication with the animal increases and improves.

Therapeutic riding also helps teach problem-solving and decision-making skills because the rider has to conquer his or her own physical, psychological, or emotional limitations in order to effectively communicate with the horse. In addition, the rider can experience a sense of accomplishment and take pride in his or her teamwork with the horse.

Therapeutic riding is also an effective form of therapy for cognitive and psychological disabilities.  It can be used for such disorders as mental retardation, Down syndrome, autism, ADD, ADHD, and dyslexia.

Benefits Of Horse Riding Therapy

Different studies have proven that riding therapy helps the advancement of coenaesthesia of disabled children. An example of this can be seen in some children who suffer from cerebral palsy, a muscle weakness that causes uncontrolled movements of the arms and legs. They normally cannot walk on their own and mostly just sits in a wheelchair or is attended by someone who can put them upright, but can learn to sit on a horse, their body becomes calm and they follow the movement of the horse. This movement activates the muscles.

Horse Riding Three Dimensional Movement Stimulates The Vestibular System And Has A Influence On:

  1. Balance
  2. Postural and equilibrium responses

Postural background - These adjustments are especially important when children works at a table or during therapeutic horse-riding – the trunk is not usually moved when the head is moved.  When the body is moved, the child sometimes falls from the horse, as he feels “heavy and stiff”.  These children struggle with tasks such as “hopscotch” or horse-riding.

Co-contraction - Children with vestibular problems have poor co-contraction and the muscles on one side of the body do not move in unison with muscles of the other side.  This results in poor balance.

Protective extension – Children with poor body and gravity sensation make no effort to extend the hand and arms when falling.

3. Muscle tone

If the vestibular system is not effective, a low muscle tone is present and the child tires easily.  This can also be the reason that many children with learning problems have difficulty in sitting straight up and holding the head up while writing.

Horse riding is the only sport having a positive effect on low as well as heightened muscle tone.  The rhythmic movement of the pelvis will destroy spastic patterns and neck, back and body or trunk control will improve.

4. Eye and neck muscles

Children with learning problems as a result of poor functioning of the vestibular system, often have problems with eye movements.

The vestibular system is also responsible for keeping a stable picture during movement.  To make this possible the vestibular system must make continuous adjustments in the neck and eye muscles to compensate for the movement of the head.  Without these adjustments is difficult for the child at school, to copy work form the black board into his notebook.

5. Eye movements / vision

Vision is influenced by the stimulation of the neck muscles.  Smooth coordinated eye movements are essential to reading and other academic tasks.

6. Bilateral motor coordination

This refers to the ability of the child to co-ordinate movements of one side of the body as well as both simultaneously.  Just by holding the reins and controlling the horse the children needs a lot of bilateral integration.

7. Laterality

An unique program is again develop to work on the horse, stimulating right-left discrimination, body image, concept and scheme.  It is also important to work here on crossing of the midline and trunk-rotation.

8. Praxis

This relate to the ability to plan and execute skilled or non-habitual motor tasks.

9. Eye-hand coordination

We need fine muscle control and eye-hand coordination to write in the school. A definite program again is followed on the horse to work on this.  It is however important that one first work on shoulder stability on the horse.

10. Hemispheric integration

Good hemisphere integration is of the utmost importance in the learning process.  In order to keep balance on the horse, muscles strength of both sides of the body is required, and both hemispheres are involved.

11. Speech, language, auditory perception

One of the three vestibular canals is an auditory receptor.  Speech development should therefore be one of the first aspects to be influenced positively in a horse-riding therapy program.

12. Spatial perception

The rhythmic three-dimensional movement of the horse evokes balance reactions through the passive shifting of the rider’s gravity and this can influence the development of special perception.  Children having problems with spatial perception sometimes reverse letters and number.

13. Overactive/ under-active vestibular system

Because there is close cooperation with the vestibular system, active behavior is caused by an overactive vestibular system and passive behavior by an under-active vestibular system.

14.  Academic performance

There is a clear link between horse-riding and its influence on academic performance.

15. Self-image/emotions


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