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Horse-Riding Case Study

Connor is considered to have profound disabilities (not how his mother views him). Connor's CVI is severe and he is registered blind. Connor also has a cerebral auditory impairment (CAI) at the severe level too, this makes learning extremely challenging because the two main senses, vision and hearing, are both of extremely limited use, or are they...

Connor's mother heard from the mother of another child with CVI that they loved horse-riding, and wanted to try it. Connor had been averse to anything new for several years, so this completely new experience had to be very carefully thought through.

On the first visit to the stables, the plan was to let Connor sit on the horse, no more, and build up from there. Connor, instinctively knowing he was somewhere unknown, began to panic and tried to lie down, his way of saying it is too much. Hoping for just a few seconds on the horse, everyone, including the staff, were amazed that once on the horse Connor completely calmed down and clearly enjoyed a fifteen minute walk.

Connor, not having any obvious sense that there was a fall that could harm him, had to be heavily supported, and had a member of staff either side, with one hand holding his shin against the horse, and the other hand supporting his back and shoulders (so he didn't fall off), and a third person leading the slowest smallest horse in the stables.

Connor loved it, and that was all everyone needed. Every week he returned, and using the tiniest baby-steps he needed less and less support, to the point a year later where he is completely balanced, pushing weight through the stirrups and holding onto the saddle.

Connor was never going for a horse ride, Connor was (is) learning to ride a horse for himself by himself, independently.

1. What might horse-riding have been challenging for Connor?

Connor's mother has invested considerable time learning to understand how he experiences the world, and whilst she knew this step into the unknown would be difficult, she planned, including:

  • ensuring Connor was comfortable
  • whilst in an unknown place, never leaving Connor's side (until he was happy on the horse), so Connor felt more secure
  • being prepared to leave after only a few seconds to build upon it, if necessary (it wasn't)

2. How was horse-riding made accessible for Connor?

  • Connor's mother is teaching Connor (considered by many non-verbal) to talk. She uses the word 'horse' with the experience of going on a horse. Connor very quickly matched (recognised) the word with the activity, so for following weeks Connor could be told 'horse' and know where he would be going.
  • Due to his CAI noise is extremely distracting and often frightening for Connor. The stable staff replace talking with gentle music, and when walking outside keep noise to an absolute minimum, they call them his 'silent walks' which he loves. By removing a perceivable distraction (noise from talking) Connor is actually able to learn more effectively - the perception of noise can creating distractions that make learning harder for Connor.
  • Regular staff were used, so there were always more knowns than unknowns
  • Slowly, with slight tactile encouragement, Connor learnt to correct himself, so that if he leant across or backwards, his increasing core strength meant he comfortably was able to return to his correct position. With this development Connor needed less and less physical support whilst on the horse. Now he needs none (although does still require supervision).

3. The successful approach.

  • The approach has been one of the tiniest baby steps with the most wonderful patient staff who clearly are overjoyed with Connor's progress. Connor did not know where he was or what a horse was, but he liked this experience, so the starting point was motivation, and with slow careful steps Connor is exceeding all expectations.
  • A key objective has been greater independence for Connor, and his mother, his most important protective shield, never accompanies him during the actual lesson, although did initially walk him to the horse for mounting. After nine months, without pressure, Connor let the stable manager walk him to the horse, more independence.

Some children can achieve in a single lesson what Connor has taken a year to learn, this is not the purpose of sharing this story.

By understanding the reasons behind Connor's learning challenges, and adapting and accommodating where necessary, including allowing enough time, he has shown that he can learn how to ride a horse.

Initially Connor needed to be fully supported on both sides, to learn the correct posture and not fall.Initially Connor needed to be fully supported on both sides, to learn the correct posture and not fall.

Now, whilst Connor still needs supervision, he is able to ride without being physically supported, with beautiful posture, pressing his feet into the stirrups, and sometimes (when not dancing) holding onto the saddle. Now, whilst Connor still needs supervision, he is able to ride without being physically supported, with beautiful posture, pressing his feet into the stirrups, and sometimes (when not dancing) holding onto the saddle.

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At CVI Scotland we are devoted to helping people understand cerebral visual impairments, and together working towards developing the understanding of this complex condition.