Horses as Healers: Benefits of Hippotherapy in Youth

The New York Times recently released an article about a mother who has a three-year-old son with cerebral palsy and the benefits of Hippotherapy. Ms. Foster, the mother states:

“Jack has cerebral palsy and low muscle tone. The biggest challenge is holding his head up.”
The article discusses the benefits Jack received from a form of therapy called Hippotherapy. Hippotherapy is a form of equine-assisted therapy conducted by licensed physical, occupational and speech therapists. It uses therapeutic horseback riding, to treat multiple forms of physical disability and mental health issues including, brain injuries, cerebral palsy spine curvature, intellectual disabilities, language disorders and sensory processing disorders.

Benefits of Hippotherapy

The natural movements of the horse and the environmental cues enable therapists to work toward treatment goals in a fun setting. Research shows that there are significant benefits of Hippotherapy. Children with cerebral palsy who have used Hippotherapy, have gained increased body control and motor skills after a short number of sessions.

Researchers have found that the motion of a horse striding around a barn, pushes the rider’s pelvis forward, providing a constant repetition of “trunk challenge”—where the midriff of the body is pushed forward and back. With each step the horse takes, the rider must subtly work to stay upright. It is an intensive movement experience that requires the person on the horse to be forced to respond to that movement.

For Jack Foster, the benefits of his therapy have been drastic. The pelvic thrust movement from riding horses has helped him strengthen the low muscle tone in his neck and trunk, while relaxing the muscles in his hips and thighs.

A Typical Session of Hippotherapy

Therapy sessions include riding a horse facing both forward and backwards. They can include a ball toss or placing rings onto long rods or cones, which is designed to improve trunk and neck control as well as reaching abilities.
Benefits of Hippotherapy have also included solutions for those suffering from speech and language issues. Meredith Bazaar, a speech and language pathologist, uses Hippotherapy to treat clients. She states:

“The movement of the horse is so repetitive and coordinated,” allowing her to manipulate a client’s lips, chin or cheeks with her hands to help them make a desired sound. With every stride the horse takes, the client repeats a target sound, such as “go”.

There are clearly multiple benefits of Hippotherapy available for youth and adults struggling with physical and mental disabilities. Forms of therapies that use animals have had extremely beneficial outcomes for many things. While Hippotherapy is not for everyone, it could greatly benefit you or your child.

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