How to Start a Therapeutic Horse Riding Program

By Cuteness Health Editor

Therapeutic riding provides therapy to adults and children with physical and emotional difficulties while hippotherapy uses horses and riding in physical, speech and occupational therapy. Parents, family members and doctors report that patients have improved balance, coordination, speech, and mobility after getting involved with therapeutic riding riding or hippotherapy programs.

Research programs in your area. There's no point in setting up a program if programs exist that can handle the need for the area. You could instead volunteer with them.

Talk to doctors' offices, rehabilitation facilities and other medical practitioners to see if they see a need for either hippotherapy or therapeutic riding.

Decide whether to create a therapeutic riding program or a hippotherapy program. If you decide to form a hippotherapy program, you will need to hire licensed speech, physical and occupational therapists to conduct sessions. If you decide to form a therapeutic riding program, you will need to seek training and accreditation from the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association or hire an accredited therapist.

Contact the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association for information about therapeutic riding certification. This organization provides certification and can supply you with valuable information about getting started.

Form a non-profit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization to run the program. You will need to write bylaws, incorporate as a non-profit in your state, and file Form 1023 with the IRS to become a 501c3. You will need to assemble a board of directors to oversee the organization.

Locate a facility to use. You will need stalls and or pasture for the horses as well as a fenced riding arena. A covered arena will allow you to keep up sessions regardless of the weather.

Secure insurance. You will need general liability insurance for your program as well as D&O Insurance for your Board of Directors.

Make sure the facility is equipped for your program. You will need sufficient parking, sidewalks or smooth grassy pathways suitable for wheel chairs and people with canes or walkers. You'll need a handicapped-accessible bathroom and seating for parents and family members.

For a hippotherapy program, hire speech, physical and occupational therapists. For a therapeutic riding program, get training and certification as a therapeutic riding instructor, hire a certified instructor or locate a certified instructor willing to donate her time.

Put together fundraising events to raise funds to make improvements to the facility, purchase equipment, purchase and care for the horses, pay salaries and pay for utilities.

Find suitable horses. Therapeutic riding and hippotherapy horses must be sound at the walk, well-trained, quiet and laid back. Their walk should be smooth and fluid, not choppy or halting. They should not bite, kick, buck, rear or spook. You may get horses donated from community members or you may need to purchase horses.

Test each potential therapy horse with an able-bodied rider in a variety of situations he/she may encounter before accepting the horse into your program. Have the rider ride at a walk with side-walkers and a leader, sitting forward, sideways and backwards. Have the rider throw things from the horse's back and catch things thrown at him. Have the rider kick the horse, sit off-balanced and move around. Make loud noises to see how the horse reacts. Horses that remain quiet and do not react are therapy candidates.

Purchase necessary equipment. This includes horse-care equipment such as feed and water buckets, grooming equipment, basic medical equipment. It also includes therapy items: a ramp to use when putting wheel-chair bound riders on the horse, a mounting block, balls, cones, buckets and other props for riding exercises, bridles, saddles, bareback pads, surcingles, helmets and more.

Locate volunteers. You'll need people to help care for the horses, people to help with fundraising, people to act as sidewalkers and people to lead the horses. Put up flyers at churches, schools and other community centers.

Organize volunteer training to teach your volunteers how to do their jobs. Coordinate volunteer schedules.

Advertise your program with doctors offices, rehabilitation centers, schools, and other community groups.

Put together an informational brochure for those interested in the therapeutic riding program. Set up a website advertising this service. Emphasize the safety features you offer so people feel comfortable using your service. Highlight the expertise of your staff.

Schedule a grand opening and invite the community to view your facility, meet your horses and talk with your staff. Take donations to help fund the program and sign up volunteers and riders at the grand opening. Put on demonstrations during the grand opening and explain the importance of your program.

Schedule classes and start the therapy sessions.

Continue fundraising and advertising after your program gets going. Apply for grants and form relationships with community groups who can help your program.