View Full Version : Down syndrome & riding "normally"

Nov. 25, 2009, 03:19 PM
Did not really know how to title this post, but hope it is OK. So, I have been waiting for a Off Topic day to post this, so here goes.
My almost 1 yr old Daughter, Annelies, has Ds. She is absolutely perfect in every way, her development is going awesomly, and her health is great. We have all that to be thankful for, and we are. She is blessed with a persistance that will no doubt help her in life.
My question to you is, is there anyone on this board who has experience with kids who have Ds riding in a 'regular' riding program (like at a barn), and even at regular local shows? I fully expect her to ride, and to be able to do so 'regularly'. She has incredible balance, sits right in the middle when I put her on her toy horse (with her legs off the floor).
I was jsut wondering if anyone can share with me some positive examples...

Nov. 25, 2009, 03:25 PM
There used to be a little girl with Ds showing on our local circuit - she did short stirrup way back when my son was doing leadline - so 15 years ago or so..don't know if she continued past that level or not, but she was freakin adorable on that pony.

Nov. 25, 2009, 03:27 PM
No but: I think any one, child or adult, who gets out there and rides with a disability is a courageous person! All of us "normal" people who whine and complain about minor things need to admire and encourage people like your daughter.
Good luck with her. I hope she does well at everything she wants to do.

Nov. 25, 2009, 03:31 PM
Wow, you guy are awesome, thanks so much for the quick replies!!! :)
I think Annelies will not really think of herself as a hero, she will just 'do what she has to do to make it work'. It is amazing how quickly our kids' personalities come to light, and there is no difference with her :)

Nov. 25, 2009, 03:35 PM
The Great Falls PC Vaulting Team had a longtime member with Down Syndrome. He was absolutely capable of vaulting at the same level as his peers. I realize it's not the same as riding, but pretty close!

And it was a wonderful life lesson for the kids who didn't have developmental challenges to be around someone who did and who was living a full life.

Nov. 25, 2009, 04:04 PM
I usually don't post, but after seeing this thread- i have to!

Back when i taught camp, we had a Ds kid (well, she was 18) come to several of the camp weeks that summer. She was an absolute JOY to teach and have around. Completely fearless. She would have "her" horse (a steady mare) and do whatever we'd ask. Her favorite thing was to just trot around the arena. She did much better than the other kids. Still my favorite student! Not sure if she's still riding... that had to be a good 7 years ago.

Nov. 25, 2009, 04:06 PM
Fergs, I think vaulting is miore difficult than just riding, LOL!:lol:

Nov. 25, 2009, 04:43 PM
There was a girl here locally (who is now an adult) with DS who got involved with a barn as a young child. She rode very successfully on the local and rated circuit for many, many years. She had a very natural ability for it.

Her parents were very supportive and seemed to know when to push and when to back off. They also took care to find her suitable mounts and good trainers. The horses were most definitely a fantastic "therapy" for her and a way to connect with other people her age.

I suppose it will all just depend on your daughter's interests and abilities.

Best of luck to you and your little girl!

Nov. 25, 2009, 04:45 PM
I've got 3 children coming here to ride that have Down's Syndrome. One has a little difficulty with balance or rather stability but she gets to ride a Highland pony with a very muscular neck and a lot in front to help with that difficulty. Over the years she's been coming I've seen an improvement with her balance and stability and her parents and physio are convinced that riding has helped more than anything else she does.

They're all delightful children and extremely loving and as such are a pleasure to teach.

Nov. 25, 2009, 04:50 PM
I LOVE your daughter's name, so pretty.

I say let her go for it. It's too early to tell what her overall athletic capabilites will be at this age but DS has such a broad range of symptoms.

I say, treat her like any other child of a horse crazy mom. Start introducing her safely and frequently to barn life. You can obviously start with lead line at an appropriate age.Then see what life brings her...

I have taught DS students. They are a joy because there is not a mean bone in a DS child's body. Their entire existance revolves around being happy. I have some that were extremely capable of executing the moves on a horse. There is a much greater need to supervise so the horse does not overface the rider. Instructions have to be short, sweet and direct as well as repeated a lot. While the body may develop as a rider, the brain may need the instruction to remain very black and white. Very much if this, then that.

In the show ring, this is where a DS child can get into trouble. I do a lot of mock horseshow at home before venturing out. DS children need to practice real life situations a lot before they become second nature.

Another great system that works for our program is the buddy system. I have volunteer riders that start out ponying the DS child rider from another horse. This gives the horse a buddy to "lean on" and the DS child can practice technique at speed without as much danger as being on their own. Gets them off the lunge line too. Ponying even happens at horse shows. Gotta have a great pair of horses. I have even gotten permission for the pony rider to go in with the walk trot DS child at her first horseshow. Our local curcuit was glad to oblige and she even earned a ribbon in her eq class. I know this isn't "normal" but it got her started and she never needed the pony horse in another class. But when she is mounted and outside of an arena, she has her pony rider saddled up and at her side. We trail ride our DS kids this way too.

The saving grace with a Ds rider, as with any child rider, is a fabulous horse. I am lucky to have two horses in the barn that LOVE special needs riders.

Nov. 25, 2009, 04:51 PM
I judged a local show a few weeks ago and one of the SS rider had DS. Mom or trainer approached me before the class and pointed out that her left leg was not as strong and that if she lost the stirrup while trotting, could I please call for the walk.

She seemed to be a very determined young lady with really good upper body control. She struggled more with her position on that side, but needed no special accomodations that I could see. She had what seemed to be a very suitable mount. Of course, I wish I could say that about all the beginner riders. :)

Long Spot
Nov. 25, 2009, 04:57 PM
Fergs, I think vaulting is miore difficult than just riding, LOL!:lol:

I was going to say the same thing! Something I've never had the guts to try!

As per your question, I'd wager it's pretty much the same as with anybody...if the rider loves it and it's something they really want to work at, she'll have a great time. I have a nephew who is involved in the Special Olympics in bowling and swimming. I've always wondered if riding is a sport there, and if not...why not? Seems like something a lot of kids would be interested in, and with the amount of great therapy riding orgs now, something that shouldn't be that hard to pull off.

Does anyone know if there IS Special Olympic riding? I'd love to know for my nephew...who the one time I put him on a horse I had to beg and bribe him to get off. He was hooked and could have stayed up on that horse all day.

Nov. 25, 2009, 05:03 PM
Special Olympics does have riding, I think just a dressage test though. We had a woman that came and trained at our barn for a year getting ready for it. She attended other local shows as well, she just came to us for some extra saddle time outside of her club, as well as she wanted to jump a bit.

Nov. 25, 2009, 05:34 PM
I've got 3 children coming here to ride that have Down's Syndrome. One has a little difficulty with balance or rather stability but she gets to ride a Highland pony with a very muscular neck and a lot in front to help with that difficulty. Over the years she's been coming I've seen an improvement with her balance and stability and her parents and physio are convinced that riding has helped more than anything else she does.

They're all delightful children and extremely loving and as such are a pleasure to teach.

i second this as my old farrier has a downs syndrome child also i kow to loads of ridings school and they always have a few children or adults around and you know what
they can make it into the big wide world as well as in my jobs as a rep i have come across adults as well, i have found these people to be kind loving and more than willing and most helpful i have also found when they work with animals or any type of work they give it 100% so dont think becuase she has downs syndrome that the world ends - treat her like any other person or child and she will mix in with everybody around her - and then her world is her osyter

Nov. 25, 2009, 05:41 PM
I love all your input and advise. I feel hopeful for Annelies' future. I will NOT force her into horses, but the way she already is when I put her on a toy one (and that is just for PT) reminds my Mom of how I was when I was little. I was born with that horse-gene and it would be that she is, too. We will see. have a Great Thanksgiving, everyone!!!

Nov. 25, 2009, 05:51 PM
My daughters both horsewomen said they wouldn't force their children.

But my granddaughter's bedroom has more horses in it than all the members of this board put together! My grandson was first on board in front of his mum when he was 4 weeks old!

All of the grandchildren were "introduced to horses" when they were less than a fortnight old and riding when they were still in nappies.

Not so much force...... more brain washing ;)

Nov. 25, 2009, 06:56 PM
Much goes into working with the DS child. If you feel comfortable instructing, or have and instructor that is educated in the physical and emotional needs of the DS rider then I say why not if they Dr. has cleared her to ride. There are some medical indications that exclude some DS riders, but I am sure you have discussed them with her Dr. :)

We have worked with many, many DS riders....they are delightful :)

In regards to Special Olympics, SO follows FEI rules and most every level of competition is available to riders. Our riders have done many different classes, however, be prepared to make sure you communicate your classes specifically with the host facility for larger (ie state and regional) competitions because they tend to rush through and eliminate classes if there is only one or two riders. You just have to be a little "insistent" :cool:

The full rules etc, are in this pdf


Nov. 25, 2009, 07:17 PM
Santpoort, we had two at our place over the years. There was a great rider at my cousin's barn in ... ah ... Laren or Bussum. Had a huge bont gelding he did dressage with - he was DS and no one ever really noticed, a great guy who would kick everyone's ass in the show ring. He said for him his DS was a non-event, and everyone else felr the same. Annelies is a beauty!

Nov. 25, 2009, 07:31 PM
Annelies is a beauty!

She really is! Such a beautiful beautiful little girl. Best wishes to the both of you.

I wanted to mention that an old friend has a brother with DS. He started riding at a young age and participated in the Special Olympics. He did very well when he competed. :yes:

Nov. 26, 2009, 01:08 AM
I have taught many people with Down's syndrome how to ride (I am a NARHA instructor) and there were several students who became quite accomplished.

One thing in particular to note: sometimes people who have Down's syndrome have a cervical deformity (atlantoaxial instability) that makes it dangerous to ride - a fall may paralyze them. Your daughter will need an x-ray after age 3-5 to determine her status.

Good on you for encouraging horses for her!

Nov. 26, 2009, 09:04 AM
Yeah, Emryss, I am waiting with baited breath until she is 3 and can have that X ray, believe me :) I ahve a feeling she is OK. (Mommy gut feeling. Same feeling I had when I 'knew' she had Ds and the rest of the world was in denial except for my husband).
Thanks All!!

Nov. 26, 2009, 01:52 PM
Speaking as a program manager and NARHA instructor please make sure that when you get your daughter's xray that you have it read by a neurologist or someone at a very good childrens hospital. There are some kids in my program who have to go to Riley in Indy to get a dr to say they are ok to ride. Some family doctors arent comfortable with the risk of signing the clear to ride paper. As one mom told me, I know my son has a slight space that may cause damage in a fall but he doesnt need a doctors signature to ride his 4 wheeler or jump on our trampoline!

Good luck with your daughter!