Humans and animals have interacted in a therapeutic way
for many years. The first document, which recorded the use of animals for
therapeutic purposes, appeared in 1699. Therefore, human-animal interaction has
been around and been used effectively for many years. “Oxytocin reveals more
information about why the relationship between humans and animals has the
potential to be therapeutic.” (Olmert 2009) Oxytocin is
responsible for the ability of many animals to “read emotions, to seek physical
contact and companionship, and to experience relaxation when in each other’s
presence” (VanFleet and Faa-Thompson 2010), thereby making them
ideal tools to help humans therapeutically. In my research, I focused on how therapeutic horseback riding can help reduce the symptoms of cerebral
palsy in children.
is Cerebral Palsy
“Cerebral Palsy is considered a
neurological disorder caused by a non-progressive brain injury or malformation
that occurs while the child’s brain is under development.” (Stern Law, PLLC 2017) Cerebral palsy
largely affects body movement and muscle coordination as well as muscle tone,
reflexes, posture, and balance. People with cerebral palsy were most likely
born with the condition although; some may acquire it later for example because
of abuse, medical malpractice, negligence as well as infections, and injury.
and Signs of Cerebral Palsy
Symptoms of cerebral palsy are
different from signs of cerebral palsy. Symptoms are not necessarily visible
they are the effects the child feels or expresses. Signs, on the other hand,
are clinically identifiable effects of brain injury or malformation that cause
cerebral palsy. The main effect of cerebral palsy is impairment of muscle tone,
gross and fine motor functions, control, reflexes, coordination, balance, and
posture. Oral motor dysfunctions, such as swallowing difficulties, speech
damage, and poor facial muscle tone can also indicate cerebral palsy.
Unfortunately, many signs and symptoms are not visible at birth, except in some
severe cases, and may appear within the first three to five years of life as
the brain and child develop. In these cases, the most apparent early sign of
cerebral palsy is a delay in the development. Delays in rolling over, crawling,
sitting and walking are cause for concern.
Cerebral Palsy be Cured
Nowadays cerebral palsy can be managed but not cured. Scientists
are performing stem cell research to determine whether they will be able to
either fix or replace damaged brain cells in the future. “In an experiment
conducted by neurologist Evan Snyder at Harvard Medical School, mice were
injected with stem cell implants. The results of the study indicate that
missing cells can be spontaneously replaced.” (Stern Law, PLLC 2017) Although it is too
early to confirm whether Snyder’s results can be replicated in children. In the
upcoming years the scientists what to figure out whether they can find a way to
manipulate damaged brain cells to heal or replace themselves, then conditions like
cerebral palsy could be treated.
is Therapeutic Horseback Riding
Therapeutic horseback riding or “THR”
falls under animal-associated activity. It is recreational horseback riding
with lessons adapted to individuals with disabilities. Certified instructors
with the cooperation of volunteers lead therapeutic horseback riding lessons.
In therapeutic riding, the individual is often taught riding lessons in a group
format. The emphasis is on proper riding position and reining skills.
Horseback Riding vs. Hippotherapy
Therapeutic horseback riding is
often mistaken for hippotherapy. Unlike “THR” hippotherapy falls under animal-assisted
therapy. It is not a horseback riding lesson. It is physical, occupation or
speech therapy, which is approved by a physician and implemented by a human
services practitioner such as a psychologist, a physical therapist or an
occupational therapist. It is a goal-directed form of therapy. Hippotherapy is
a one-on-one treatment and generally occurs until the client meets discharge
Benefits of Therapeutic Horseback Riding
There are many documented physical benefits of
therapeutic horseback riding for a range of disabilities. After my research, it
became clear that the movement of the horse is one of the most important
aspects of why therapeutic horseback riding has an effect on children with
disabilities. THR helps children with walking, running, and jumping. When it
comes to cerebral palsy, it has been proven that therapeutic horseback riding
significantly improves fine and gross motor function, core strength, motor
coordination and balance. It has also been proved that therapeutic horseback
riding improves attention and visual coordination.
in the Fine Motor Skills
With horseback riding just like any
other equine interactions, small muscle movements will always be necessary.
Holding and working with the reins improves the client’s fine motor skills and
in the Gross Motor Skills
While riding a horse, the client’s
will need to use large muscle groups. The ability to use the muscles of these
groups refers to the rider’s gross motor skills. The act of riding itself helps
to improve these skills as the rider rises and sits to the horse’s rhythm.
Having the rider lift his or her body from the saddle by putting weight on the
stirrups also contributes positively to thier gross motor skills. (State Line Tack 2017)
of the Core Strength
As I said before, the movement of the
horse is one of the most important aspects of therapeutic horseback riding, because
it helps build core strength. The horse’s movements are unique because they
have a pattern, which includes both forward motion and swaying. The client’s
core is strengthened because he or she has to adjust to these movements using
their upper body and legs.
in Motor Coordination and Balance
Both balance and motor coordination are
required while riding a horse. Motor coordination is being improved while
mounting and dismounting the horse because the client has to be coordinated in
his or hers movements. The client improves their balance while riding, as they
learn to stay on the horse and hold on with a proper posture. While riding his
or hers muscles are learning how to work together to help maintain the balance.
Overall, I believe that a person diagnosed
with cerebral palsy can only benefit from therapeutic horseback riding.
Throughout my research, I have not found one disadvantage. If your child has
been diagnosed with, cerebral palsy I think that you definitely should discuss trying
therapeutic horseback riding with your doctor because it is one of the few
options that can help reduce the symptoms and improve your child’s life.