The North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) is the umbrella organization for nearly 650 Riding Centers in the United States that provide Therapeutic Riding for 32,000 disabled, children, youth and adults.
Some of these riders were disabled at birth; others have suffered an injury or accident in later years that has resulted in their disability, while others were born autistic. Still others are at Risk Youth. For children and adults with CP and MS the motion of riding on a horse is identical to that of a person jogging or running so muscles can be developed that a physical therapist cannot reach.
Often parents of autistic children will tell us that the first word their child has spoken is “whoa” or “giddy up”, because they know that is what moves or stops the horse. NARHA was founded in 1969 at the Red Fox Inn in Middleburg, Virginia by a group of horse owners who knew from visits to England that a new therapy had been developed to treat persons with disabilities by providing them with therapy on horseback.
From that small beginning the Association has become the leading spokes organization for the disabled and horse therapy and is the organization that sets the standards for the industry.
NARHA is vitally concerned with the safety of its riders and its volunteers and conducts extensive certification courses, nationwide, for potential instructors; on going continuing education courses for its instructors and volunteers; and accreditation visits to its Member Centers to guarantee they are complying with proper safety standards. NARHA also offers numerous publications to its membership and the general public, from its Award winning quarterly magazine, to the four page pamphlets designed for instructors, or administrators, or riders and their parents.
Many persons who have been told they would never be able to walk are now walking as a result of the therapy they have received on the horse and many at risk youth have benefited and become productive citizens as a result of the responsibilities they were given in caring for a horse.
Former Presidential Press Secretary James Brady rehabilitated at the National Center for Therapeutic Riding, a NARHA facility that at that time was located in Rock Creek Park. NARHA holds an annual Convention, with presentations from leaders in the industry, and conducts Regional Seminars and Conferences on an annual basis in each of the 11 NARHA Regions in the United States. Nearly 2,000 persons attend these seminars, workshops and Conference annually.To conduct a riding lesson the young rider must have two sidewalks and a lead walker.
Throughout the Country there are 30,000 volunteers, 1,100 instructors and 5,700 Therapy Horses involved in NARHA Programs. For many of the volunteers it is their first interaction with a child with disabilities. Despite these numbers there remain waiting lists at nearly all NARHA Centers. For the child in wheel chair the horse allows them to go places that they could not otherwise go and helps them tremendously in developing their self confidence; NARHA ‘s mission.