Blog #162~ Horseback Riding Therapy
Horseback riding therapy, also known as Equine Assisted Therapy, involves interactions with horses for individuals with and without special needs, including those with physical, cognitive and emotional issues. Hippotherapy is another term used by physical, speech, and occupational therapists to reach their patients on a personal level.
There are many benefits such as motor, emotional and sensory sensations that come with riding a horse. Horseback riding gently and rhythmically moves the rider’s body in a manner similar to a human gait, to improve in flexibility, balance and muscle strength.
At age one, my son Nick was unable to sit up by himself due his low muscle tone, which is a trait of having Down syndrome.
Nick at age one…..
We had to prop him up in the high chair, so he wouldn’t slide down or slump to either side. Nick was receiving physical, occupational and speech therapy in his early intervention program. Shortly after his first birthday, we enrolled him in a horseback riding therapy program.
Person’s having Down syndrome please note:
“Prior to considering hippotherapy as a treatment strategy for your child, it is important that they have current cervical x-rays to ensure the atlantoaxial joint (or C1-C2) is not at risk for dislocation. Some people with Down Syndrome also may have a condition known as Atlantoaxial Instability — a misalignment of the top two vertebrae of the neck. This condition makes these individuals more prone to injury if they participate in activities that overextend or flex the neck. Parents are urged to have their child examined by a physician to determine whether or not their child should be restricted from sports and activities that place stress on the neck injury.”
In less than nine months, of incorporating the horseback riding therapy, we noticed a vast improvement in Nick’s posture both in strength and endurance. At first he couldn’t tolerate a helmet as it weighed him down, (as you can see in the first picture of this post). But soon, he not only wore a helmet, but was able to keep his head upright, along with and sitting up better.
Nick with his brother, Hank, taken nine months after starting horseback riding therapy…
We decided on horseback riding therapy, initially to help our son gain trunk strength. However, we soon realized there were many additional benefits that came along with it. Not only did Nick ride on top of the horse, he also learned how to care for the horse by feeding, patting and brushing them. This helped to create an emotional bond and opened up new sensory experiences that he couldn’t get in a clinical setting. Riding a horse helped to wake up the sensory preceptors, making for a fun and motivating experience for him.
Horseback riding therapy was a wonderful experience for our son with special needs. The horses were gentle friends that helped Nick get stronger, build relationships through unspoken communication, and taught him about responsibility. That’s what is in my noggin this week!
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