Equine therapy, also known as hippotherapy, is used to aid the physical, occupation, and emotional growth in persons with a wide array of conditions, ranging from dementia to depression and anxiety, autism, and developmental delays. A new pilot study published in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation (JNR) sought to examine the kinematic outputs of horses and the children who ride them, in order to understand the extent to which equine therapy could help children with cerebral palsy. In the study, four children with cerebral palsy took part in eight physical therapy sessions involving horse riding. Each session comprised 20 minutes with a horse. The session was divided into two: in the first part, children rode non-stop for 10 minutes. In the second, they stopped and started multiple times. Movement trackers measuring acceleration, angular velocity, and orientation were used to measure the vertical acceleration of the horses and the children.
Children with CP are sometimes prescribed medication to treat primary and secondary issues caused by the condition. While CP medication is sometimes deemed necessary (for instance, for seizures), doctors sometimes recommend activities such as yoga, acupuncture, occupation therapy and indeed many other approaches. Sometimes, a combination of both approaches works best. When selecting alternative approaches, of course, parents can find that the array of options can be confusing. When making a selection, going with approaches that their children prefer and those which provide good results, can help them find an ideal balance.
Equine therapy may be a positive alternative therapy to start out with because the findings in the JNR study were positive. The tests used on the children focused on gait and speed, which is often used to measure functionality in people with neurological conditions. One test, called Timed Up and Go, measures the amount of time it takes a child to stand up, walk a specific distance, walk back to their starting point, and sit down. The second test, called the 10 Meter Walk Test, measures the time it takes children to walk comfortably from specific points at two and eight meters along a 10-meter pathway. The results of the study showed that children improved modestly in the functional test and that their movement became increasingly synchronized with that of the horse’s walk. The scientists reported that because a horse’s gait when walking mimics the human gait to some extent, this type of treatment can help children with abnormal gait patterns learn to adopt a typical pattern.
Children with cerebral palsy have a wide range of alternative treatments to try. These range from yoga right through to acupuncture. A new pilot study also indicates that equine therapy can help improve functionality and gait. Hippotherapy is also a highly popular activity for children, who enjoy the opportunity of being close to animals.