What happens when you bring music, kids and horses together? MAGIC! Just ask licensed music therapist and PATH Certified Riding instructor Sr. Ann Frances Thompson who combined her lifelong passions to explore the joys and benefits that can come from Music Therapy on Horseback! Sr Ann Francis embarked on this special programming at Equest Center for Therapeutic Riding and has since become sought after as a guest presenter across the United States by PATH International, therapeutic riding centers and music therapists to name just a few!
Music can be used to enhance the therapeutic riding experience, as it does in so many other areas. What is unique about using music with therapeutic riding is the fact that BOTH the horses and humans respond positively to music! Horses have a natural cadence when they walk, trot, cantor and gallop. Interestingly enough, they will often match their traveling movement to the beat of music heard in their environment. Like people, music with horses can be used for relaxation or motivation. So pairing the two with music provides an exciting relationship and experience.
Music with humans is a powerful tool to unlock emotions on many levels. When conducted by a certified music therapist, music is used selectively to accomplish certain desired behaviors. Music therapy is a clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship. (American Music Therapy Association, AMTA)
So how can music therapy be used on horseback? The ways are as different and variable as the people and the horses together in the riding experience. Some general categories can be listed however:
- To teach a new skill, like how to prepare and mount/dismount a horse
- To shape/correct posture, like sitting tall, head up, heels down, etc.
- To act as a trigger to remember a skill already taught
- To help the rider (and the horse) relax when tension is present
- To cue a next step, needed in learning an arena pattern
- To assist the horse in picking up another gait, like walk to trot
- To create a fun learning environment
For individuals with difficulty processing the spoken word, music can be a key to understanding! Because music is processed in a different part of the brain than speech often messages that are given through song can be processed when the spoken word cannot. When students ride with music, especially when it’s used therapeutically for a specific intervention, almost anything perceived as challenging or even scary, becomes fun and enjoyable and certainly something to look forward to!
Sister Ann Frances Thompson, FSE, MA, MT-BC
PATH Certified Riding Instructor and Equine Specialist