January 27




Transitions and the role of the horse

All of us have had issues with transitions from the people we have worked with as therapists or riding instructors.  Transitions can be challenging for people of all ages and abilities. It can often be hard to transition from something that you are deeply engaged in to something less preferred or to a new activity altogether.  Some days we may find ourselves able to transition easily between tasks we are working on and other days we may find ourselves struggling to handle more than one task at a time. This happens with the children and adults that we work with when providing therapy services or riding lessons.

Here are a few thoughts for working through transitions:

Client transitions: Therapists (occupational, physical or speech/language) may focus on improving transitions when working with clients.  During the session, the therapist can help the client with preparing for a transition, moving through a transition and developing coping skills when a transition is not going well.  Typical strategies include giving time warning, using a preferred activity after a non-preferred activity and using a transition object. Ways to help a client move through transitions include utilizing sensory input, using empathy and co-regulation and using structured steps.  Finally, coping skills for transitions can be developed through self-reflection, learning new skills and role playing.


Rider transitions: Rides can also have difficulties with transitions.  This can be transitions to start and end their riding lesson as well as completing riding transitions during the lesson.  Riding instructors can structure their lesson to support transitions at the beginning and end of the riding lesson. Techniques can include a familiar routines, cue words or music and warning or timing strategies.  Riding instructors can discuss this with families to see what works at school and other settings and incorporate those into the routine. In addition, riders can have difficulty performing a riding transition as a skill.  Riding instructors can focus on teaching the rider how to prepare for, execute and recover from the transition that the horse completes. The instructor must teach the student how to prepare their body as well as their horse before, during and after the transition.  These skills include weight shift, use of aids and responsiveness of the horse.


Horse transitions:  Pulling this all together, what about horse transitions?

Horses working in the discipline of hippotherapy: Horses trained in hippotherapy must be well school in smooth and fluid transitions.  The horses’ ability to execute transitions between and within the gait is very important in the success of the client. The horse must be physically conditioned, responsive to the horse handler and able to balance the client.  The therapist can direct the horse handler to have the horse transition between or within the gait as needed by the client. The more responsive the horse, the more effective the transition for physical benefit, sensory processing and communication purposes.  In addition, the therapist can also use transitions between gaits to assist the client in transitions (preparing for, moving through and coping skills).


School horses: School horse need to be responsive to the rider’s request for a transition.  Ideally, school horses should also be responsive to verbal commands. The school horse should be able to execute a transition when the rider makes an attempt.  School horses should be ridden by a skilled rider often to improve their ability to respond to a rider with less experience or less clear aids. School horses should also be unflappable when a rider is having difficulty with a transition, such as difficulty coordinating their aids or getting off the horse to end their lesson.

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