boy with dog

Animal Assisted Therapies

There are many reports from both parents and clinicians that interacting with animals, formally called animal-assisted therapy, can offer both physical and emotional benefits.  For example, it has been claimed that animals can soothe the emotionally distressed, relieve physical pain, reduce heart rate and blood pressure, help with development of motor skills and, in the case of people with ASD, reduce stereotyped behavior, lessen sensory sensitivity, and increase the desire and ability to connect socially with others.

This is an area where more research needs to be done, however, there a few studies who have shown interacting with dogs shows an increase in socially appropriate behavior and a decrease in autistic behaviors like hand-posturing, humming and clicking noises, spinning objects, repetitive jumping, and roaming.

Therapeutic horseback riding, or equine therapy, has long been used for individuals with disabilities such as cerebral palsy. There are also a few studies showing children who took horseback lessons became less irritable, less hyperactive, spoke more words, and showed other improvements, compared to children who didn’t ride.

Additional research has shown children with autism found that those who had a family pet from a young age tended to have greater social skills.

Researchers emphasize the need to consider the child’s sensitivities before getting a pet or using animal-assisted therapies.    Some children may have sensitivities to noise or can become agitated if a dog jumps on them or for a dog that barks.  Some children with autism may have difficulty understanding how much pressure to use when petting or hugging an animal.  The size of a horse could send a child into a state of panic.

For more information on the studies in this field, visit IAN

The Difference Between a Service Animal and a Pet

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Service animals can be trained for a variety of functions including keeping a child safe and preventing wandering, alerting parents to a seizure, and using the dog’s body weight to help a person with autism be relaxed and calm, or even help them sleep.  Service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered.  The individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls.  The animal must be housebroken.  Fees for a service dog can run $17,000.

Comfort animals or sometimes called emotional support animals.  This type of animal is no different than a pet. It hasn’t received any kind of training. The owner may have a medical letter from a doctor or a mental health professional saying there is a need for the animal for a mental or emotional condition they have, like anxiety or depression.  These animals do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

Local Resources


Dog Wish
Dog Wish places Psychiatric Service Dogs with the neurologically disabled at cost-effective rates. President Bob Taylor, through his training of over 300 Service Dogs, has been honored by the Red Cross, the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and many others, for his work with the disabled community.

Leaps & Bounds Pediatric Therapy
(951) 340-0431
2200 Hamner Ave Ste 107, Norco, CA 92860
Leaps & Bounds Pediatric Therapy is dedicated to providing specialized services for children and adults who have challenges participating in typical age-appropriate activities.  Our highly trained team works together to deliver individualized family-centered care for each person.  Our team of PATH International Certified riding instructors and physical, occupational and speech therapists are professionals committed to the highest standards of practice.  Our non-profit board of directors works hard to raise funds to support our programs, to keep costs low.  Our entire staff works together to create a fun and fulfilling experience.  We offer Clinical Rehabilitation Services (including treatments on horseback), Equine Assisted Activities and Adaptive Riding for recreation, socialization, or fitness.  Coming January 2018, “Ranch Club” will be offering Sibling Support for brothers & sisters of special needs children.  We look forward to hearing from you!

North Star Foundation
(860) 423-0664
Selects, trains, and places assistance dogs with children who face social, emotional and educational challenges. The majority of the children they serve are on the autism spectrum, however, placements are also made for children suffering a loss or coping with a serious illness.

Horses/Equine Therapy

Challenged Children’s Rodeo
(951) 734-5566
For children ages 4-12 years – special physical requirements must be met.

Blissful Acres Ranch
Phelan (760)403-2802
Therapeutic ranch program with animals consisting of mini horse, mini mule, 2 donkeys, dogs, cats and sometimes bunnies and goats. The program is free of charge for families.  A safe, fun and peaceful environment. By appointment only.

Green Acres Interactive Therapy (GAIT)
35750 De Portoloa Rd, Temecula
(951) 302-6045
Certified by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA).  Staff can provide consultation with a Physical Therapist, Occupational Therapist, Speech Therapist, Adapted Physical Education Instructor, and Therapeutic Riding Instructor. Three separate programs to fit every person and their individual needs.

Lady B Ranch
22576 Papago Rd, Apple Valley
(760) 247-5894
Riding lessons, therapeutic riding programs.

Leaps & Bounds Pediatric Therapy
343 Sixth Street, Ste. L, Norco
(951) 340-0431
Provides physical therapy, hippotherapy and occupational therapy services for children of all ages in the Inland Empire and Orange County who are at risk for, or who have difficulty participating in typical, age-appropriate activities. Leaps & Bounds is also the only practice in Southern California offering BOTH clinic-based therapy and hippotherapy services.

Queen of Hearts Therapeutic Riding Center, Inc.
6405 Dana Avenue, Mira Loma
(951) 734-6300
Dedicated to providing an avenue to improve the bodies, minds and spirits of children, youth, and adults with physical and/or developmental disabilities through therapeutic horseback riding lessons and other equine activities.

REINS (Riding Emphasizing Individual Needs and Strengths) Horse Therapy
4461 S. Mission Rd, Fallbrook
(760) 731-9168
Provides physical, mental, and emotional therapy to a wide range of disabled children and adults through the use of carefully supervised horseback riding. Our therapeutic horsemanship program serves disabled children and adults from San Diego, Orange, and Riverside counties.

Rising Stars Of Equestrian Therapy
1525 Sycamore Canyon Rd, San Dimas
(909) 560-5323
Provides therapeutic and recreational horseback riding lessons to physically and mentally challenged children and adults. In addition to improving posture, balance, coordination, strengthening and relaxing muscles and joints, riding builds self-discipline and self-confidence.  Now takes enrollment through Rancho Cucamonga Parks and Recreation.

T.H.E. Center, Inc
27260 Girard St, Hemet
(951) 658-7790
Holds the Handi-Capable Dance held on the 2nd Friday of each month at Valley Wide – 901 W. Esplanade,  San Jacinto from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.   It is FREE and refreshments are provided!  Also provides therapeutic riding for children and adults with disabilities.  T.H.E. Center is a NARHA (North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, Inc.) Certified Premier Accredited Center.  For persons enrolled in therapeutic horseback riding who are considered low-income, T.H.E. Center provides a sliding scale depending on household income. Documentation as to income is required for sliding scale fee (paycheck or other verification).

TRAX Equestrian Center
2121 Saint Lawrence, Riverside, CA 92504
TRAX Equestrian Center offers Therapeutic Horseback Riding for Children and Adults with Neurological and Physical Disabilities.  Trax Equestrian Center is a year-round facility offering a unique horseback riding program that coordinates physical and emotional therapy into a one-of-a-kind experience. The program is overseen by a licensed speech pathologist and occupational therapist. The goals of the program are to achieve increased balance, and control, and improved language and socialization skill while enhancing self-esteem. The therapist designs each participants lesson plan based on individual needs.  The program offers weekly one hour or thirty minutes sessions. The session can include up to 45 minutes of riding under the supervision of a trained riding instructor as well as up to three volunteers who lead the horse and help support the rider. Participants are encouraged to interact with the horses by learning to care for them.

Autism Society Options Policy

This Resource Guide was developed to provide families and professionals with an opportunity to find resources related to autism in the Inland Empire in one place.

All information provided or published by the Autism Society Inland Empire is for information purposes only. Specific treatment, therapy or services should be provided to an individual only at the direction of the individual’s doctor, caregiver, or other qualified professional. References to any treatment or therapy option, program, service, or treatment provider are not an endorsement by the Autism Society. References of treatments, therapies, programs, services, and/or providers are not intended to be comprehensive statements. You should investigate alternatives that may be more appropriate for a specific individual. The Autism Society assumes no responsibility for the use made of any information published or provided. The Autism Society Inland Empire provides information, but it does not constitute medical or legal information. Referrals provided are suggestions to organizations that might help, but do not constitute a recommendation. The Autism Society Inland Empire cannot be held responsible for consequences that arise from individual dealings with a professional or organization. The inclusion of any organization does not imply endorsement, and omission does not imply disapproval. The Autism Society Inland Empire may add or remove organizations from this list at its discretion.