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Researchers study therapeutic riding program

December 15, 2010


Riding horses on a regular basis has positive effects for those with disabilities, Mississippi State researchers say.
Having observed the effects of horseback riding on the physically impaired, MSU Department of Kinesiology professors Adam Knight and Katherine J. Gilliland have found positive changes in their movement.
Some of them include increased range of motion and more stability, Knight reported.
“You simply cannot put a value on watching a person walk when he was told he would never be able to,” Gilliland said in an e-mail, “or a child laugh while
working on motor skills when all they would do before was cry because it hurt too much to move, or a person with autism making social connections when they were unable to in the past, or a mother hearing her chld talk for the first time and in a complete sentence saying, ‘today I rode a horse.’ “
MSU’s 4-H program recently opened an arena in West Point called the Elizabeth A. Howard Therapeutic Riding and Activity Center (TRAC).
4-H is now taking applications from prospective riders and volunteers, ages 14 and up, for classes starting in March, said certified instructor Mary Riley, who can be reached by calling 325-3350 or by sending an email to
Riley specializes in coaching people with disabilities, such as down syndrome, autism, spinal chord injuries and cerebral palsy, to boost their confidence, communication skills and motion by showing them how to not only ride horses but to do things challenging for most people like throw balls or hitting them with bats while on horses.
“Our herd selection is a stringent process,” said Riley, emphasizing the importance of happy and calm horses able to walk with people for long periods of time.
Riley’s son was born with with a hearing impairment and benefited from riding, later earning a degree in audiology.
“It gave him a little edge,” Riley said.
The new TRAC center, located on Churchill Road behind the Mossy Oak Outdoor Outlet, opens up opportunities for psychology researchers along with those studying animal and dairy science at MSU.
The Department of Kinesiology will presented their research on therapeutic riding the Southeastern Chapter of the American College of Sports and Medicine.
An student from the department won the “best” prize for the COE undergraduate research poster presentation last spring.

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