Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology

Cover image for Vol. 56 Issue 10

Edited By: Peter Baxter and Hilary Hart.

Impact Factor: 3.292

ISI Journal Citation Reports © Ranking: 2013: 8/117 (Pediatrics); 48/194 (Clinical Neurology)

Online ISSN: 1469-8749

Virtual Issue Collection: Hippotherapy and Therapeutic Horse Riding


Welcome to Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology’s Virtual Issue on Hippotherapy and Therapeutic Horse Riding

All articles and commentaries are freely available and have been specially selected by the editors.

Sports therapies have an increasingly prominent place in providing enjoyment and participation for people with neurological and developmental disorders. Horseback riding is particularly popular and addition to its appeal as a fun activity in which horse and rider establish a close relationship, it has the ability to engage people with a wide range of physical difficulties (e.g. cerebral palsy with Gross Motor Function Classification System levels I–V) and social/communication and cognitive difficulties (e.g. autism and intellectual disability).

Hippotherapy (from the Greek hippos [horse]) is a form of physical therapy in which a licensed therapist uses the characteristic movements of a horse as a therapeutic intervention or tool. Therapeutic horse riding (where specific horse riding skills are taught) is conducted by non-therapist riding instructors and assistants who select target objectives based on the person’s individual physical and social needs.

There is some research evidence of observable benefits in terms of motor ability, balance, and postural adjustment. A limited number of studies have been carried out and many have the drawback of small numbers and lack of a control group. Some advocate the use of single-subject design. Conclusions about functional gains have often been somewhat tentative but there is sufficient interest in the discipline to examine the evidence and encourage further systematic study.

We present five articles on the subject including two review articles (one a meta-analysis) which illustrate the existing levels of evidence and also the challenges involved in conducting studies in the field.

Effects of hippotherapy and therapeutic horseback riding on postural control or balance in children with cerebral palsy: a meta-analysis
MONIKA ZADNIKAR, ANDREJ KASTRIN, 2011

The eight studies examined, found that postural control and balance were improved during hippotherapy and THR. Although the generalization of our findings may be restricted by the relatively small sample size, the results clearly demonstrate that riding therapy is indicated to improve postural control and balance in children with Cerebral Palsy.

A randomized controlled trial of therapeutic horse riding on the quality of life, health, and function of children with cerebral palsy
E DAVIS, B DAVIES, R WOLFE, R RAADSVELD, B HEINE, P THOMASON, FIONA DOBSON, H KERR GRAHAM, 2009

This randomized controlled trial examined whether therapeutic horse riding has a clinically significant impact on the physical function, health and quality of life (QoL) of children with cerebral palsy (CP). Ninety-nine children aged 4 to 12 years with no prior horse riding experience and various levels of impairment were randomized to intervention or control. Pre- and post-measures were completed by 72 families (35 intervention and 37 control). Children’s gross motor function, health status, and QoL were assessed by parents and QoL was assessed by children before and after the 10-week study period. Upon analysis, this study suggests that therapeutic horse riding does not have a clinically significant impact on children with CP.

Does horseback riding therapy or therapist-directed hippotherapy rehabilitate children with cerebral palsy?
JOHN A STERBA, 2007

For this report, quantitative studies were sought investigating whether horseback riding used as therapy improves gross motor function in children with cerebral palsy (CP). Eleven published studies on instructor-directed, recreational horseback riding therapy (HBRT) and licensed therapist-directed hippotherapy were identified, reviewed, and summarized for research design, methodological quality, therapy regimen, internal/external validity, results, and authors’ conclusions.

Horseback riding in children with cerebral palsy: effect on gross motor function
JOHN A STERBA, BRIAN T ROGERS, AMY P FRANCE, DEBORAH A VOKES, 2002

The effects of recreational horseback riding therapy (HBRT) on gross motor function in children with cerebral palsy (CP: spastic diplegia, spastic quadriplegia, and spastic hemiplegia) were determined in a blinded study using the Gross Motor Function Measure (GMFM). After an 18 week study with 17 participants, the findings suggest that HBRT may improve gross motor function in children with CP, which may reduce the degree of motor disability. Larger studies are needed to investigate this further, especially in children.with more severe disabilities. Horseback riding should be considered for sports therapy in children with CP.

Effect of an equine-movement therapy program on gait, energy expenditure, and motor function in children with spastic cerebral palsy: a pilot study
NANCY H MCGIBBON, CARLA-KRYSTIN ANDRADE, GAIL WIDENER, HOLLY LEA CINTAS, 1998

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effects of an 8-week program of hippotherapy on energy expenditure during walking; on the gait dimensions of stride length, velocity, and cadence: and on performance on the Gross Motor Function Measure (GNIFM) in five children with spastic cerebral palsy (CP). The study indicated a trend toward increased stride length and decreased cadence was observed. This study suggests that hippotherapy may improve energy expenditure during walking and gross motor function in children with CP.

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