Hippotherapy is the use of horseback riding for therapy and rehabilitation, often for individuals with physical, developmental, or emotional challenges. Many children and adults with cerebral palsy have benefited from hippotherapy, which has been used in Europe since the 1960s and in the United States since the 1970s. A good number of studies have shown that horseback riding in a controlled therapeutic environment offers several physical and emotional benefits to individuals with cerebral palsy.
To Improve Postural Control and Strength
The main goal of hippotherapy is to improve the rider's active postural control, strength, and balance. When a rider is atop a horse, he or she must respond to the horse's movements in all three dimensions and constantly adjust to and anticipate the horse's movements, which are controlled by the therapist.
Horseback riding is also a good way for anyone to stretch their legs, arms and back, and cerebral palsy patients especially benefit from this stretching.
Kids' Enthusiastic Response
Another excellent aspect of hippotherapy is that it can be quite enjoyable. Horses often seem to sense a child's emotional state. In fact, the horses used for hippotherapy are chosen for their gentle, child-friendly temperament. Kids often form a bond with a horse, no less so in therapy than in recreational riding.
For a child with cerebral palsy, riding a horse once or twice a week is the most fun they'll have while undergoing physical therapy. The excitement a child may feel at the thought of riding a horse can provide some much-needed motivation and enthusiasm.
Getting a Feel for Riding a Horse
During hippotherapy, which is prescribed by a physician, the rider typically sits on a pad rather than a saddle atop the horse, to get a better feel for the movement of the horse. The warmth of the horse also helps to relax the thigh muscles, as does the rhythmic movement of the horse being walked.
To facilitate better muscle tone in a rider and inhibit his or her abnormal postures, the therapist may have the rider spend time in a variety of positions on the horse.
If you would like more information about your legal rights for an affected loved one, please contact us to speak with a qualified cerebral palsy attorney.