History of Therapeutic Riding

By Judi Island, Independent Rider

To the uninformed, putting an injured or disabled person on a horse might sound bizarre. I certainly had my doubts when my doctor suggested it to me. As it happens, therapeutic riding is hardly a new idea, having spread to some 45 countries over the last 100 years.

1901 – Dame Agnes Hunt founded the first orthopaedic hospital in Oswestry, England. She found great value in using horses and riding with patients.

1918 – Miss Olive Sands, a physiotherapist, took her horses to a hospital outside Oxford, providing riding programs for soldiers disabled during World War 1.

1940 – Dame Liz Hartel, a former Danish international dressage rider, though severely paralyzed by poliomyelitis, insisted on riding. She inspired therapeutic riding pioneer’s by winning a Silver metal for dressage at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games.

Early 1950s – Mrs. Elsebet Bodthker, a Norwegian physiotherapist and accomplished horsewoman, met Mme. Hartel. Noting the physical progress, Mrs. Bodthker began teaching polio patients to ride, using basic equestrian exercises and other techniques developed by clinic physiotherapists. Ulla Harpoth, a physiotherapist in Copenhagen, began recommending riding to her patients. After only a few months, children and adolescents disabled by poliomyelitis saw numerous benefits.

1950-1960 – Therapeutic riding in the UK progressed from polio patients to amputees and people with other disabilities.

1960 – Olympic-style games for athletes with disabilities were held in Rome, with 400 athletes.

1963 – Dr Elmer Butt initiated the first Canadian therapeutic riding program in Ontario. The Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association (CanTRA) was formed in 1980 and now has over 100 centres.

1964 – The UK formed its first “Advisory Council” for riding for the disabled.

1969– The Riding for the Disabled (RDA) was formed consisting of 80 groups and 2400 riders. Today the RDA has 650 groups, (each a charity in its own right), and over 25000 child and adult riders, plus more than 14000 volunteers.

1980- The Federation Riding for the Disabled International (FRDI) was founded to create links between therapeutic riding and driving centres, and to assist in developing programs worldwide. In 1985, the FRDI had 16 members. It now includes 45 member and associate countries. FRDI provides educational information and helps develop international standards for safe, competent instruction. The organization also encourages high standards for the protection and training of therapeutic horses. In addition, it works with the International Paralympic Committee (IPEC) to promote equestrian sport for riders with disabilities.

1996 – Equestrian became an official Paralympic sport at the Games in Sydney. It was the largest event in Paralympic history with 122 countries participating. For more information, see FRDI Web site: www.frdi.netAdditional reading: “The Reins of Life”, John Anthony Davies, Publisher: J.A. Allen, London 2nd ed. 1988 ISBN 0-85131-449-x.

History of CanTRA

The Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association, a registered charity, was formed in 1980. Committed to promoting challenge and achievement for young people and adults with disabilities through the use of the horse, the organization has grown to almost one hundred member riding centres across Canada.

The Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association is the National Sports organization for Therapeutic Riding and riders with a disability in Canada. “CanTRA” is a non-profit organization providing support to individuals and groups through education, certification, insurance coverage, communication and accreditation.

CanTRA’s Aims and Objectives:

  • To promote therapeutic riding for persons with disabilities throughout Canada
  • To establish and maintain standards of horseback riding as a therapeutic, recreational and sports activity in collaboration with the medical profession.
  • To develop competitive equestrian sport
  • To maintain the highest standards for registered Canadian Therapeutic Riding Instructors
  • To develop standards of program excellence
  • To promote research in all aspects of therapeutic riding
  • To provide a continuing educational program of seminars and conferences

History of Therapeutic Riding in Ontario

Therapeutic Riding came to Ontario in the early 1960’s. Three individuals introduced the benefits of riding and therapy – Dr. Elmer Butt of Windsor, who also went on to help form NARHA and CanTRA, and Dr. Bauer and Dr. Renaud. This has now grown to over 40 centres in the Province of Ontario.