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Physically disabled adolescents' experience of therapeutic riding : a phenomenological investigation

By Suzette Weideman

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This dissertation serves as a report of a qualitative exploration of the experience of adolescents with physical disabilities during therapeutic horse-riding. The aim of the study is to understand the impact of therapeutic riding on the lived world of the participants in this unique form of animal assisted therapy. In order to achieve the set goals, phenomenological psychological research is utilised. The perspective of the participants was explored through unstructured, in-depth interviews, which afforded the current researcher the opportunity to obtain rich descriptions of therapeutic riding as experienced by adolescents with physical disabilities. Seven adolescents with a variety of physical disabilities, mostly affecting motor functioning, were selected to participate. Team analysis provided bias-control and inter-rater reliability ensured that no corruption of data occurred. The verbatim transcriptions of the audio-taped data were reviewed and the original narratives consulted to illustrate themes and provide proof for the interpretations. An investigation of animal assisted therapy provided a theoretical basis for the study. The development of this form of intervention, research in the field, the different applications and the animals utilised were explored. Specific focus was placed on equine facilitated therapy, including therapeutic riding, hippotherapy and equine assisted psychotherapy. Investigations of theoretical perspectives on adolescence as a life phase as well as physical disability as a phenomena, afforded an in-depth look at the expected development of adolescents and the developmental concerns of adolescents with physical disabilities. It also provided the current researcher with valuable insight into the concerns of people with physical disabilities, especially within the South African context. Thematic conclusions illustrated that adolescents who participated in the current study experienced therapeutic riding as an enjoyable opportunity to escape daily routine and experience positive emotions. Although some of them experienced difficulties pertaining to the horses and other factors, including the limitations placed on them by their physical disabilities, they had an overall positive therapeutic experience. Therapeutic riding offered them an opportunity to feel free, relaxed and energised and afforded them the prospect to escape from the confines set by their disabilities, while they were exercising and improving their physical deficits. It can be deduced from their reports that the social component incorporated in the horse riding elicited positive emotions, because they were spending quality time with friends and family and belonged to a group that shared their experience. In this environment, perceived as socially safe, they were exposed to different social situations that gave them the chance to learn and apply new interpersonal skills. The nature of therapeutic riding educed initial fear in all of the participants, but by overcoming those fears and other challenges they were able to improve their skills and achieve personal growth. The therapeutic riding offered a motivational component that encouraged them, not only to improve their performance, but also to attain therapeutic and personal goals. By achieving goals that had seemed unattainable in the past, they experienced a sense of accomplishment and mastery and sensed improvement in their confidence levels and ultimately, also their self-esteem. An important component of their experience included the bond that was formed with the animal in the therapy-team. The different experiences of the adolescents illuminated various aspects of the nature of their relationships with the horses that included perceptions of the horse as being reliable, capable of unconditional acceptance, deserving of friendship and love, and able to show trust and understanding. This bond awarded them a sense of attachment that was strengthened through touch. Theoretical deductions that could be made by correlating the thematic conclusions with well established theory indicated that therapeutic riding could improve psychological well-being and facilitate self actualisation.


Katie Carroll

Date 2007
Pages 236
Publisher North-West University
Department Psychology
Degree Master of Arts
Language English
University North-West University
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Adolescents
  2. Animal-assisted therapies
  3. Animal roles
  4. Animals -- Therapeutic use.
  5. Disabilities
  6. Disabled children
  7. Hippotherapy
  8. Horseback riding
  9. Horses
  10. Mammals
  11. Phenomenological Research
  12. Physical Disorders
  13. Therapeutic horsemanship
  14. therapy animals