Physical therapy treatments can go a long way to help improve movement and balance in children with cerebral palsy (CP). One such treatment approach is hippotherapy (HPOT), which uses horse riding to help improve kids’ functional mobility.
Although supported by scientific studies as an effective treatment approach for (CP), there is, unfortunately, little data concerning how HPOT results in improvement. Recently, a team of researchers from Korea and the United States addressed this question, investigating physical interaction metrics between horses and children with CP during HPOT.
“My original research interests lie in the rehabilitation of people with neurological impairment, specifically gait and balance. However, I did not know about hippotherapy until rather recently in 2016. After realizing how effective it is in treating children with CP, I was motivated to explore it further,” explains Dr. Pilwon Hur who headed the study from the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology (GIST) in Korea.
The study was published recently in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation.
Synchronization Between Horse and Rider
The research team studied four children with CP over the course of eight physical therapy sessions. They placed sensors on the horses and children to record their movements and track their acceleration and angular velocity. They found that the data from the horses and children began to resemble each other as time progressed, indicating a synchronization between the horse and the rider. They also gave the children mobility tests after each session and observed improvement in their motor skills at the end of the experiment.
“We found that physical interaction between the children with CP and the horses, characterized by the children adapting to the horse’s movement and vice versa, is extremely important for the rehabilitation to be effective,” Hur adds.
Excited by these findings, the team hopes their work will provide a baseline for further research on HPOT.
“Such an understanding would help us optimize physical therapy programs, improving the quality of life for children with CP,” Hur concludes.
[Source(s): GIST (Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology), Science Daily]
HPOT should never be equated with “horseback riding”! The horse is simply being used as a piece of equipment that is alive, a tool for therapy, not riding. Showing a picture of children on miniature horses and ponies without the therapist is also very misleading. The therapist is usually very hands-on with the client on the equine, for at the very least right next to them. Please refer to the American Hippotherapy Association for more information.