Horses have enriched the quality of our lives in many ways throughout the ages. They’ve taken us into battle, plowed our fields, provided us with sport and entertainment and worked with us in policing our streets. The horse now has a new role; as an aid to the disabled.
Hippotherapy was originally practiced in Germany during the 1960's. It’s used widely in the treatment of disabled children and adults by physiotherapists, speech therapists and occupational therapists with great success. The practice entails using the horse’s movement to address those who are limited by neuromotor and sensory impairments.
The horse’s movement is rhythmical, variable and repetitive, and it’s this that helps the patient. Patients learn to respond passively to the horse’s movement; building control, balance, strength and posture. Motor skills and coordination are also improved as are cognition and attention. A qualified therapist can use the horse’s movement to influence the patient’s physical development during a carefully designed program of graded activities.
Hippotherapy is also a very valuable tool in the treatment of sensory issues. All five senses are used by the patient during their interaction with the horse. Treatment of conditions such as mental health issues, learning disabilities and autism is also aided by interaction with horses. As all horse owners know, grooming and handling horses can be very rewarding and relaxing, and this activity can provide useful therapeutic work in conjunction with hippotherapy sessions for severely disabled people.
Children benefit greatly from hippotherapy sessions. The exercises and interaction are not seen as ‘therapy’ and are consequently much more enjoyable than hours spent in a consulting room. As a result, children are more motivated to take part in their treatment regimen, and their health improves as a consequence.
The 2012 London Paralympic Games has inspired many disabled people to take up dressage. We watched in awe as severely disabled athletes performed dressage tests to music on the world stage to win Olympic gold. The Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) has never been more popular as children incorporate regular riding lessons into their physical therapy programs with secret dreams of perhaps one day becoming a Paralympic rider.
Image source: rda.org.nz