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Therapeutic Riding Programs - # lessons for horses/hours of work

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  • Therapeutic Riding Programs - # lessons for horses/hours of work

    For those of you involved in therapeutic riding programs, how do you balance keeping horses happy and enjoying their work?

    How many lessons do your horses do per week? How many hours are they expected to work and do they get days 100% off?

    How long are the lessons?

    Do you use "hack" times as mental health breaks for horses?

    Do you have planned 'vacation' periods for horse (no riding or only hack riding?

    To help get a gauge of the size of your program, how many riders are you servicing with how many dedicated therapeutic riding horses?

    What are your horses expected to do during a lesson? (i.e. just W/T or W/T/C?)

    I'm trying to suss out the consensus (if there is such a thing!) on what an acceptable level of work would be for a therapeutic riding horse. Would love to hear your experiences and wisdom in balancing out rider expectations/goals and horsey needs.

    If there are any written guidelines, suggestions or programs outside of your personal experiences please post and I will take a look at them.


  • #2
    with the usual qualification that "it depends on the horse," and a note that i haven't been active in TR for years, this is how we used to do it at the place i volunteered (30 some horses and 150+ riders):

    the horses worked 2-4 hours a day, but never more than 2 hours consecutively (bearing in mind many of these animals were elderly or infirm) (and as a comparison, the schooling barn where i ride now has a limit of five hours a day, no more than three hours consecutively, depending on the horse and the weather)

    the barn ran monday through saturday, so everyone was off sundays.

    the barn shut down completely for two weeks in august, so the horses just lay around sunning themselves for two weeks.

    some of the horses were used solely for TR (w/t), some solely for regular lessons (w/t/c/j), and some for both. if a TR horse was getting burnt out, s/he would often be put in regular lessons for a bit to have something different to do with a rider that knew what s/he was doing. the riding instructors would try and get on all the horses at least a couple times a month to school them.

    the barn sat on 55 partially wooded acres, so weather permitting, there were a lot of trail rides for all levels. (--and then lots of stripping in the kitchen to shake the ticks onto the yellow linoleum floor and squish them. )
    Today I will be happier than a bird with a french fry.


    • #3
      It depends on the center, what programs/populations they serve, etc.

      Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) Internationally, formerly NARHA, has standard of practice for horse use. You should be able to find a lot of information from their website regarding horse usage. Sites only have to follow these rules if they are PATH accredited, however, there are sites out there that are not but that does not mean they follow these good horsemanship rules as well.

      What the horses gets used for and the "schooling" they receive is very center dependent. If it is primarily therapeutic riding, now called adaptive riding, it will depend if riders require leader/sidewalkers or if riders are working on independent riding skills (trot/canter/basic jumping or dressage) or working towards paradressage goals. Some sites even have adaptive driving and vaulting opportunities. Lessons are mostly groups but could be privates, so more like your typical riding lessons but horses need to adjust to physical, behavior, and learning needs of the riders, so in general more taxing. I thought the rule was no more than 3 hours (maybe 4) with required breaks in between.

      Many centers also offer hippotherapy as a treatment tool, which is therapy using the movement of the horse, provided by an OT, PT, or SLP. In these cases, the horses mainly walk for sessions that last 30, 45, or 60 minutes (again site dependent). Clients perform a variety of position changes and functional activities. Some centers even long line the horses for better quality movement while the client is mounted.

      A good quality center will have the horses schooled/ridden but either an equine manager on site, trainer, or very qualified volunteer with a good riding resume (though it is hard to find these people). Depending on the area/riding style, they will be worked this way. If not possible, horses will be hacked and or ridden in volunteer type lessons/by less experience riders without disabilities to keep things different for the horse. Again each center is different, some places won't school their horses, which I think is a necessity for happy horses and keeping the horses fit for their work load for their riders and/or producing quality movement for therapy clients.

      Hope this helps. Feel free to ask more questions if you like.


      • #4
        I can only speak for the center I work for, but we try not to exceed two hours per day. (I want to say PATH's standard is four hours per day, but don't quote me.) Most of our horses average two 30 minute lessons per day, four days a week. When a horse starts hitting 10 lessons per week, we either redistribute riders or start looking to add a new horse. Our sessions often include trail riding in good weather, which helps with equine sanity. Our TR lessons are walk/trot, and the HPOT sessions are generally just at the walk.

        In addition to TR/HPOT, our horses are ridden by volunteers or staff, ideally twice a week. As previously stated, it's hard to find volunteers with both time and the skills to improve the horses, but they are out there. We are lucky to be located on a farm with plenty of open space for hacking, including hills. Each horse has its own training/exercise plan, and every ride is logged so we can evaluate and reconfigure the horse's work to meet its needs. Most of our horses are older with maintenance issues, so we focus on keeping them sane, reasonably supple, and adequately fit.

        We are closed for two weeks at the end of December/beginning of January, as well as the week before school starts in August. Depending on their needs, the horses may get the occasional hack or go to ground manners boot camp during that downtime, or they may just hang out.

        For reference, our center has seven horses serving 35-40 riders per week (and growing!).


        • #5
          That's interesting about schooling and/or hacking the therapy horses occasionally.

          The PATH center near me doesn't have any of their horses ridden between lessons, not for just hacking; they may school them sometimes, but what I have been told is that the horses work so hard in lessons they deserve their time off to themselves.

          I like the idea of having them schooled or hacked between lessons, and I wish that the center would let good riders (who don't qualify for the therapy classes but may have need of some less-focused "therapeutic riding") exercise the horses in between their regular lessons. (Yes, I would like to be one of those riders.)

          The other centers near me are not PATH-affiliated, as far as I know. I do know that one of them does not do any lessons or rides other than their own program, which starts everyone out with bareback pads and trail rides (as well as an intro in the ring).
          Founder of the People Who Prefer COTH Over FB Clique
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          • #6
            Some sites feel that having the horses just work in lessons and/or therapy is plenty as they work hard. Others feel having them get schooling from qualified riders helps keeps their mind off thing and fit for the job.

            I can see why some centers don't have others ride, because finding appropriate and qualified riders is difficult and they don't want to hurt feelings of volunteers. It is also harder if you are a smaller center and don't have someone either hired to do the schooling or an equine manager who can determine who is appropriate or not to do the schooling.

            I personally prefer horses getting schooled a few times a week. I think it makes happy and fit horses. As I primarily provide OT using the horse as a treatment tool (hippotherapy) I want my horses to be adjustable in the walk. In order to provide a good quality walk to my clients they need to understand the basics of connection as I am looking for the horse to step under and lift their backs to provide a very dynamic 3D walk. This is why I usually have a horse handler long line but the horse needs to understand these concepts undersaddle (or in long lines if too small to be ridden by an adult) before I can ask them to do it with one of my clients who has physical, behavioral, and/or cognitive needs. As I know what I like out of my horses, in the past I have just schooled them for the center I was working at.


            • #7
              A center I worked with years ago would send the horses to pony club and 4h homes for anywhere from 6 months to a year every year. they found it was a change and variety and kept horses trained, exposed to many things and more willing to then do the slower but monotonous lessons.


              • #8
                OP - contact Fieldstone Farm TRC outside Cleveland; they have usage limits in place, turnout time, time off, etc, and I'm sure would be happy to share w/ you. I was a board member and volunteer but left the area 3 yrs ago and my memory of the details is less than perfect. You want to email or call the Equine Director.
                We don't get less brave; we get a bigger sense of self-preservation........