Exploring horseback riding as a means to build physical competence among adolescent girls


Horseback riding is a novel, physically-based intervention that deemphasizes physical appearance and focuses on overall enjoyment. While evidence supports the effectiveness of riding in improving self-esteem and confidence in a number of special populations, there is little research into whether riding can help to improve the physical self-perceptions of adolescent girls. PURPOSE: The purpose was to explore the use of horseback riding to enhance physical competence in adolescent girls. METHODS: Participants included adolescent girls (N=3; Mage=13) engaged in a 12-week riding program, their parents (N=3), and their riding instructors (N=2). The girls and their parents completed pre- and post-program qualitative semi-structured self-reports while riding instructors completed post-program questionnaires. All measures explored the girls' riding experiences and how they related to their perceptions of physical competence, body image and self-efficacy. RESULTS: Thematic analysis was used and the child and parent reports were examined for convergent and divergent themes and then triangulated with the riding instructors' responses. All three sources highlighted an increased level of physical skill and confidence among the participants post program; this was directly related to positive experiences with the horse. While the girls' felt their physical skills had improved, the parents and riding instructors spoke to an improvement in self-confidence among the girls. Other notable themes were openness to new experiences, fun, and formation of new bonds. CONCLUSION: These findings provide initial evidence that horseback riding can help adolescent girls develop physical competence through mastery experiences, eliciting positive changes in confidence and body image.

Acknowledgments: This study was done in collaboration and with the help of the Free Spirit Therapeutic Riding Association