Horseback physiotherapy, or hippotherapy as it is otherwise known – is a little known form of physio which is breathing a new lease of life into many profoundly disabled children up and down the UK.
The therapy itself is conducted by physiotherapists who are also trained in equine physiology. The aim of the treatment itself is not to transform the children into world-class jockeys, but to use the shape of the horse as a tool to stimulate their muscle tone, relax their joints and improve their balance, posture and walking ability.
Children mount the horses often without a saddle or stirrups and sit in unorthodox positions such as sitting sideways, lying flat on the back of the horse and sitting bolt upright with arms outstretched in front.
According to the physiotherapists themselves, the children and their parents – the results of the therapy are felt across the board, helping the children to cope with all of the tasks involved in day-to-day living. From sitting up straight to complete homework right through to walking home from school or sitting at the table when having a family meal, daily tasks that previously used to cause discomfort are eased.
According to equine physiotherapy Emma Woodward who works at the Chigwell Riding Trust, performing the therapy whilst the child is on horseback is totally different to performing it whilst they are on two feet: “On a horse it’s different because the child is required to balance on a three-dimensional moving object. It’s a massive workout of the hips, pelvic area and leg muscles which helps develop motor and balance skills.”
Though much more evidence is needed to prove the efficacy of hippotherapy, so far the small numbers of studies that there have been have provided promising results.
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