As Texans, we’re bound heart and soul to horses–the most popular mode of travel in the earliest years of our state and still a preferred mode of travel for many Texans today. In war and peace, horses have been a symbol of perseverance, strength, and spirit. If you think horses are becoming obsolete in a world rampant with technology, think again. Just a simple ride on a horse can make a world of difference to children with disabilities.
It’s called hippotherapy, kids love every minute of it–and it happens on a horse.
Mobility issues are the result of a number of conditions, like cerebral palsy. Though hippotherapy first emerged in the 1960s in Germany, just a few years ago the therapy using horses was updated in a study designed by Tim Shurtleff OTD, OTR/L. He measured the benefits of short-term equine therapy on the trunk stability of participating children. Trunk stability–the ability of an individual to maintain balance of the upper portion of the body–is often the reason many patients with cerebral palsy cannot walk, even if their legs are functional.
Over the last few years, research conducted by physicians and therapists at distinguished medical institutions confirmed hippotherapy’s therapeutic benefits. Patients were initially tested in a laboratory setting wearing reflective sensors and filmed while riding a mechanical barrel that mimicked the movements of a horse. Six cameras collected the data of the movements of the rider and sent it to a computer. The computer rendered this information into an image that allowed researchers to capture a baseline view of the stability and balance problems of each child. When subsequent views of the patients showed definite improvement in stability and balance, the therapy became widely accepted and is used around the world to help children with disabilities.
Now children with mobility issues spend time in the saddle as a means of improving physical strength and balance. Over the course of a session, the motions of the horse require the riders to adjust their balance three to five thousand times. What’s more, the children retain the benefits for months after therapy ends. And the therapy has also proven successful for children with autism, multiple sclerosis, brain injury, ADD, stroke, cancer, brain injury, spinal cord injury, and other conditions.
There are a number of therapeutic riding facilities in Texas, including R.O.C.K., Ride On Center for Kids, located in Georgetown, Texas. This non-profit provider of therapeutic riding and hippotherapy for individuals with cognitive and physical challenges, like similar organizations in the state, are changing the lives of children every day:
Still, some health insurance companies are hesitant to cover the treatment, but parents are hoping that will change in the future. Meanwhile, hippotherapy just gives us Texans one more reason to adore our horses.