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Lisa Krystosek Dec 17, 2012

Title: Horses as Counselors: Therapeutic Driving

As we learned last time, Therapeutic Horsemanship is a great method of recreational therapy for people with physical disabilities, developmental disabilities and mental health issues. In addition to riding lessons, many Therapeutic Horsemanship programs offer other ways of interacting with horses to enhance the physical, psychological and social benefits horsemanship provides. One example is Therapeutic Driving.

What is Therapeutic Driving?

Therapeutic Driving is a method that utilizes a horse and carriage to provide participants with the experience of interacting with and controlling the movement of a horse without actually riding. Participants learn to drive the horse by sitting in the carriage driver’s seat or in a modified carriage that accommodates a wheelchair.

This method is a great alternative for people who are unable to ride a horse. There are many reasons people may choose driving over riding for therapeutic purposes. For instance, the person may struggle with fear issues, balance issues or be unable to sit on the horse comfortably. The person may also just lack interest in riding. Therapeutic Driving may also help those new to Therapeutic Horsemanship to learn the basic horsemanship skills necessary to eventually begin riding. In addition, the cognitive skills and physical movements required to drive a horse may be transferrable and help individuals learn to drive an automobile.

Specific benefits of Therapeutic Driving include:

•Improved fine and gross motor skills.
•Improved posture, core strengthening and stability.
•Development of bilateral movement and body awareness.
•Unique movement experience.
•Enhancement of cognitive skills such as sequencing and spatial, environmental and directional orientation.
•Promotes teamwork.
•Increased sense of independence, self-esteem and confidence.

What happens during a Therapeutic Driving Session?

Therapeutic Driving sessions are typically individual lessons with one instructor and one student working with a horse and carriage. Depending upon the size of the program, there may or may not be more than one horse and carriage team working at once during a session. Sessions are usually held outside, but some programs have indoor facilities large enough to accommodate the horse and carriage.

Therapeutic Driving Sessions may begin with participants helping to groom and tack up the horse. Carriage horses wear an elaborate harness that allows them to be attached to the carriage. Participants build cognitive skills as they learn the name and purpose of many parts that make up the harness. They also learn the correct way to put the harness on the horse. Once the horse and carriage are ready to go, the participant and instructor take their seats in the carriage and the driving lesson begins. Depending upon experience level, the instructor will ask the participant to do a variety of exercises to develop control over the horse’s speed and direction. Navigating the horse and carriage through an obstacle course is a popular way for a participant to learn new skills and become an effective driver.

As participants improve their driving skills and the benefits of Therapeutic Driving are realized, some may desire more of a challenge. Therapeutic Driving offers many opportunities for participants to advance their skill-sets. In fact, those with a competitive spirit may want to compete in carriage driving competitions. In most of these competitions, drivers with a disability will compete on equal footing with able-bodied competitors. This experience may provide participants with an opportunity to further promote independence while building self-esteem and confidence.

As with other forms of Therapeutic Horsemanship, Therapeutic Driving is an effective method to help people with physical disabilities, developmental disabilities and metal health issues enhance their lives. Therapeutic Driving is unique, however, because it allows participants who are unable or unwilling to ride with the opportunity to experience the connection that working with a horse can provide.

As a final note, I believe it is important to mention all of the wonderful volunteers involved in Therapeutic Driving. As in other Therapeutic Horsemanship sessions, volunteers are essential during driving sessions. It has been stated that at least four to five volunteers are necessary to help one participant during a driving session!

Want to learn more about Therapeutic Horsemanship and Therapeutic Driving? Here are some great resources:

United States Driving for the Disabled:
American Driving Society:
Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH), International:
Equine Assisted Therapy, Inc.:

Lisa Krystosek is a counselor in St. Louis, Missouri. She specializes in Equine-Facilitated Counseling to help adults, adolescents and children improve their lives. To contact Lisa, please visit

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