NARHA Celebrates 40 Years of Therapeutic Riding

Since 1969, the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) has provided equine assisted activity and therapy programs in the United States and Canada through its network of nearly 800 member centers. Each year, dozens of new centers initiate new programs and more than 42,000 individuals with special needs participate in activities which include therapeutic riding, hippotherapy, equine facilitated psychotherapy, equine facilitated learning, driving, interactive vaulting, and competition.

Headquartered in Denver, Colo., NARHA's mission is to "change and enrich lives by promoting excellence in equine assisted activities." To accomplish this mission, NARHA fosters safe, professional, ethical, and therapeutic equine activities through education, communication, research, and standards. The association ensures its standards are met through an accreditation process for centers and a certification process for instructors.

The therapeutic value of horseback riding goes back centuries although the origin of organized therapeutic riding is relatively recent. The achievements of polio survivor Lis Hartel of Denmark are generally regarded as the impetus for the formation of therapeutic riding centers in Europe. In 1952, she won the silver medal for Grand Prix dressage at the Helsinki Olympics. Medical and equine professionals took notice and soon centers for therapeutic riding sprang up in Europe.

Canadians and Americans studied what was happening in Europe and quickly made plans to start centers. Two of the first were the Community Association of Riding for the Disabled (CARD) in Toronto, Ontario, organized by J.J. Bauer and Dr. R.E. Renaud, and the Cheff Center for the Handicapped in Augusta, Mich., with Lida McCowan as executive director.

Recognizing the need for an organization to act as a clearinghouse for information on therapeutic riding, 23 individuals gathered in Middleburg, Va. on Nov. 2, 1969, and laid the groundwork for the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association.

Today, in its ongoing support of research and education, NARHA hosts a four-day annual conference that draws nearly 700 national and international participants to share the latest studies and advances in the field of equine assisted activities and therapies. This year NARHA will celebrate its 40th anniversary in Fort Worth, Texas, when it convenes its National Conference and Annual meeting Nov. 18-21. For more information, visit  

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