Hippotherapy - Healing Children with Horses
I recently read a marvelous book about Hippotherapy, only they didn’t use that term and the book is just an example of this type of therapy. This is a true story about a brave Christian woman who started a ranch, called Crystal Peaks, for abused horses in Bend, Oregon, and soon was working with wounded and ill children as well.
It was so interesting I couldn’t put the book down. The book is "Hope Rising"by Kim Meeder, and apparently there was a movie made based on her book, which I hope to see.
Child on a Horse
About the Book
When she and her husband started the ranch it was little more than a dust bowl, and the amount of physical work itself is astonishing. She was orphaned at a young age, as her father shot her mother, then himself. I’m sure experiencing this degree of trauma is what gave her such a big heart to rescue wounded and ill treated horses, then wounded and sick children.
The chapters in the book are short; and many topics are covered but one of the first chapters touched my heart. There was a 16 year old girl who had been mute since the loss of her parents staying at the ranch. She and Kim were brushing an abused, emaciated horse when the phone rang and Kim went into her home to answer it. As Kim looked out of her kitchen window she watched the girl rubbing the horses face, putting her face to his, and then she started talking to the horse while waving her arms in an animated fashion.
Not only do the children find healing from these tortured horses, the horses find healing through the children’s love also. The horses will respond by looking at you instead of holding their heads down, and they choose to live when they were ready to die. There were many miracles and some tough problems throughout the book.
Affection Between Child and Horse
When I finished the book I decided to read about Hippotherapy and found it is happening in virtually every state. I was surprised. The word Hippotherapy literally means treatment with the help of a horse. It originates from the Greek word “hippos”, which means horse. It is the 3-dimensional movement of the horse’s hips and pelvis as his hind legs move forward at the walk which provides a movement challenge to the patient, thus therapy.
The American Hippotherapy Association actively promotes the horses as a treatment strategy for people with disabilities. This therapy has been shown to improve muscle tone, balance, posture, coordination, motor development and emotional well-being. Horses are carefully chosen, and special equipment is used as necessary.
Hippotherapy : What is Hippotherapy?
North American Riding for the Handicapped Association
The North American Riding for the Handicapped Association has accredited some 700 therapeutic riding centers. Therapeutic riding is supervised recreational riding for people with disabilities, but it is not Hippotherapy. Hippotherapy is a medical treatment that requires a physician’s prescription. Often these patients may progress to therapeutic riding
Trained Therapists Licensed
Therapeutic riding influences the whole person and the effect on all of the body’s systems can be quite profound. The staff consists of medical professionals, such as physical therapist, occupational therapist and speech therapist who have special training in equine therapy, and for mental health social workers and psychologists also work in this field.
Therapists are licensed to do this type of work. Some examples of the types of patients that typically seek this therapy are patients with developmental disorders, neuromuscular disabilities or skeletal impairments.
This therapy has been successfully used for patients with autism, cerebral palsy, head injuries, stroke, spinal cord injury, behavioral disorders and psychiatric disorders.
Training the Child
St Louis Participates in Hippotherapy & Cerebral Palsy Study at Washington University
Hippotherapy is a treatment approach that use specific activities in the horse that are geared to the patient’s specific goals. It provides a foundation of improved neuromotor function and sensory processing that can be generalized to a wide variety of activities outside of treatment. This means the patient’s adaptive response to the horse’s movement and the environment will improve function of the individual.
Some of the activities are done with the person facing forward, then backward and to a quadruped (on all fours). This activity (the transition, the quadruped position and the reaching activity), is overlaid by the characteristic movements of a horse.
In addition to the facilitation of automatic postural responses and the stimulation of the trunk muscles, this therapy action increases sensory input to the following systems:
- Vestibular - because the patient is sitting backwards
- Proprioceptive - which is heavy touch pressure through the joints in the arms and legs when they are in the quadruped position
- Tactile - due to touching the horse, cognitive therapy due to using higher level motor planning skills in order to execute the transition in position
- Motor or physical benefits - due to the stability of the hips and pelvis required to maintain the position while reaching forward with one hand.
It may sound simple for us to make those few changes, but for a patient that has little control of his muscles or bones.
Special Equipment Needed
What About Those Abnormal Signs in Infants?
These are some signs that you can recognizer in an infant that may improve using Hippotherapy. Does your 9 month old baby need help sitting up? Does your 15 month old baby need help to walk? Infants with cerebral palsy have been widely helped. Is you child too stiff or too floppy?
If you answered yes to these questions this is what Hippotherapy claims to do:
- Help facilitate normal developmental progress.
- Work with tight muscles to reverse this problem.
- Increase the range of motion of the infant in all his extremities and muscle strength.
- The therapy will increase the child’s endurance for gross muscle activity.
- Coordination will be improved.
- Increase movement patterns that the child is able to use.
- Work to improve the ability of the child to change positions.
- Therapy should increase posture while sitting, standing and walking.
The goal is to help your child function as independently as possible.
Another advantage to the therapy is they will make recommendations as to appropriate adaptive equipment, and they will teach you how to help your child at home in your everyday routine. The benefits are proven to enable a child to live a fuller life in many ways.
Wounded Vets Benefit from Hippotherapy
Hippotherapy is now being used as part of the physical therapy training for wounded vets. It has been shown to increase strength and it facilitates balance and posture control.
Research has proved that this therapy also improves neurological function and sensory processing. There are numerous benefits from a psychological effect as well.
Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch -from the book
Hippotherapy was being used routinely in Europe in the 1960’s but was a little slower to reach America. Not everyone believes it is useful. Researchers have done studies, but results seem to vary. However, I found several success stories on the internet.
My personal opinion is, for instance, if you have a child who has cerebral palsy what do you have to lose? Insurance should cover most of the cost with a doctor’s prescription, and it will cost you some time with a chance at improvement. It is probably well worth the money and time investment.
I certainly think it is an interesting therapy and probably very helpful to many people.
The copyright, renewed in 2018, for this article is owned by Pamela Oglesby. Permission to republish this article in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.