Back Riding & Sensory Work
Back riding is when the instructor rides with a child seated in front of them. It can be a powerful method of establishing communication with a nonverbal Autistic child, or encouraging emerging speech.
The combination of the pressure of the child being held, speaking into the child’s ear (as opposed to face-to-face) and the movement of the horse (which can open learning receptors in the brain) all create the ideal environment for the child to receive and retain information. Faster paces of the horse (trot and canter) can induce a euphoric state in the child which can promote speech.
As well as helping to establish communication, back riding provides a number of physical benefits. Just sitting on a walking horse can move all the muscles in the body. For a child with low muscle tone or poor trunk control this can provide an excellent workout and help to strengthen muscles and improve balance.
There is also the benefit of the child being able to feel and learn what they should be doing with their body. Often children will start, without instruction, to actively ride the trot rather than sitting passively.
Horseboy Method was pioneered by author Rupert Isaacson, after using the techniques successfully with his autistic son Rowan (you can read more about their journey at the Horse Boy World website). This method combines back riding with sensory work, educational learning, and using the natural environment, following a child-led ethos.
The importance of movement in learning has been well-established in science in recent years. Our brains are designed to work best when our bodies are in motion, so if you have a child that craves movement or sensory input, back riding could be a valuable tool in helping to support his or her learning. Any subject can be learned from the saddle – we can use the horse to carry us through exercises that help introduce and confirm ideas and concepts about the world around us. Everything from basic maths to theory of mind can be learned this way!
Conquest Centre Instructor Chantal Bannister has been lucky enough to train with Rupert over the last four years, including taking part in several documentaries about the method.
If you would like more information about this method, or back riding in general, please get in touch with Chantal on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sensory work is a unique form of interaction between horse and client, designed to help calm the overloaded sensory systems of children with Autism. We find it is beneficial for just about everybody – clients themselves, siblings, parents, friends. We even encourage members of staff to do it.
The horse remains stationary on the lead rein, and the client is helped onto the horse’s back without tack. They are then encouraged to lean forwards or backwards, and place their trust in the horse. By doing this, they can feel the horse’s warmth and hear their breathing, forming a connection and encouraging relaxation.
It often appears to be a two-way process, with the horse entering into a deeply relaxed state too.