Sensory Integration at Morning Dove

An Article by Sierra Lowe OTS


My name is Sierra Lowe; I am an occupational therapy student that has been completing my doctoral capstone project at Morning Dove for the past 14 weeks. My project aimed to improve mood/behavior in children with a primary diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder by implementing sensory integration activities into weekly therapeutic riding lessons. I had parents of qualifying riders complete a pre and post-test to assess if mood/behavior changed after the implementation of sensory integration activities. I chose three sensory integration activities that were incorporated into lesson plans: mystery sensory boxes, bean bag balance, and Pony Express.

The first activity was the mystery sensory boxes where horse related items (horseshoe, hay, and horse brush) were placed in buckets. Black duct tape with an X cut in the middle was used to keep the riders from seeing the items inside. The goal of this activity was to eliminate vision so the rider had to use other senses and context clues to identify the items.

The second activity was a bean bag balance that focused on proprioception. Proprioception is knowing where your body is in space. The riders had to balance bean bags on various parts of their body (arm, head, foot) without it falling off. This activity also allows for bilateral hand coordination or crossing midline, which are good gross motor and coordination skills to work on.

The final activity was the Pony Express. The riders grabbed envelopes that had textured fabric and had to match it to a respective animal: brown hair to a horse, black velvet to a cow, and smooth, rainbow scales to a fish. The goal of this activity was to have the riders use their sense of touch and sight to match the textures.

The results of this study were positive with 2/3 riders showing improvements in areas of attention. There were also positive observations, such as a rider overcoming a fear of reaching into the mystery boxes and riders being able to match the animals from across the arena for the Pony Express activity. The riders really seemed to respond positively to the sensory integration activities and had fun while doing it. All participants agreed that therapeutic riding was a beneficial activity for their child and would recommend Morning Dove to other families.

It has been an honor to be able to watch the magic that happens here at Morning Dove. I want to thank you for allowing me to watch and help with your children/ loved ones. It has been an incredible experience and a bittersweet ending as I leave and head off to graduation. If you have any questions about the research I did or my study please feel free to contact me via email at lowes@uindy.edu.