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A therapeutic riding center is a facility that uses horses to provide therapy to people. Therapeutic riding centers work with children, teenagers and adults who suffer from a variety of physical, mental, emotional and behavioral challenges. Conditions that might be treated at a therapeutic riding center include cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries, autism and post-traumatic stress disorder. Horseback riding, horse care, the movement of the horse and other equine-related activities are used as therapeutic treatments. Therapeutic riding centers are located throughout the world and serve thousands of people.
Different therapeutic riding centers employ different activities and therapies. At some centers, the riding instructors focus on teaching physically, cognitively and emotionally disabled people to ride within the recreational and sport aspects of riding. Trail riding, horse showing and vaulting — which is a form of gymnastics on horseback — are popular activities for participants to learn.
Other therapeutic riding centers incorporate the assistance of physical therapists, psychologists and other medical professionals into treatment plans. Still other centers use multiple approaches and the services of a team of people, including riding instructors and medical and psychological professionals. Therapeutic riding centers treat people who have a variety of conditions, so no two treatment plans at a center are necessarily alike.
The movement of the horse is often an important aspect of treatment at a therapeutic riding center. At some centers, specially trained physical, occupational and speech therapists use a treatment called hippotherapy to treat people. Hippotherapy incorporates a horse's multidimensional movement to help people who have movement problems that stem from multiple sclerosis, stroke, autism or certain other conditions. The emotional aspects of working with horses are also used as therapy at therapeutic riding centers. Teenagers who have behavioral and trust issues, for example, are taught proper horse care in a safe, nurturing environment, which can help the participants build confidence and trust as they learn to bond with the horses.
Many therapeutic riding centers are non-profit organizations that rely heavily on donations and the help of volunteers. Side walkers are important volunteers at therapeutic riding centers, walking next to the horse and rider during therapy sessions to ensure safety. The horse is, of course, the center of this therapy, and horses found at therapeutic riding centers typically have been chosen because of their patient and gentle personalities. "Therapeutic riding center" is a traditional name for a center that uses horses in therapy, but as centers have expanded to include a variety of therapies in addition to riding, they sometimes are called by other names, such as equine-assisted therapy centers and equine-facilitated therapy centers.