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Is Hippotherapy for Cerebral Palsy Worth Trying?

hippotherapy for cerebral palsy

Is hippotherapy for cerebral palsy effective?

It’s hard to believe that a therapy based on horseback riding can help people with cerebral palsy recover movement.

This article will explain how hippotherapy for cerebral palsy works and why it’s worth trying.

Let’s get started!

What is Hippotherapy for Cerebral Palsy?

Hippotherapy involves interacting with a horse and responding to its movements.

For over 50 years, this practice has been used to help people with cerebral palsy improve motor control.

While horseback riding is involved, it’s not the same. Hippotherapy is a rehabilitative therapy that specifically focuses on developing a child’s motor functions.

Many people find that their gait, posture, and balance improve with hippotherapy.

How to Get Out of Habit

Because of cerebral palsy, your child may develop an abnormal gait.

According to Dr. Karen Pape’s The Boy Who Could Run But Not Walk, the quickest way to get a child out of habit is to introduce a new task.

To encourage repetition in children, this new task must be fun and challenging.

Lots of repetitions will help activate neuroplasticity in the brain and create a new neural network.

Over time, the negative habit will fade since it is no longer being used.

Hippotherapy is exciting for children because they get to interact with horses, and it is effective because they are building their balance, coordination, posture, and strength in a completely new way.

They’re having so much fun riding on the horse that they don’t even realize how beneficial it is for their bodies. They experience hippotherapy as riding, not therapy.

It’s much easier to motivate your child to go horseback riding than to convince them to go to traditional physical therapy. It’s enjoyable and gives children something to look forward to.

Physical Benefits of Hippotherapy for Cerebral Palsy

horse therapy for cerebral palsy

While there are mixed results about the efficacy of hippotherapy, it’s a very low-risk form of treatment with high potential benefits.

Suggested physical benefits of hippotherapy include:

  • Balance
  • Strength
  • Coordination
  • Muscle tone
  • Range of movement
  • Posture
  • Gait
  • Sensory processing

Because the horse is moving, children have to constantly adjust their center of gravity to stay balanced.  This builds core strength, which helps develop stability and coordination.

When you’re sitting in a wheelchair, you’re already stable, but when you’re on a horse, there’s less stability and you have to constantly use your core muscles to prevent falling over.

The horse’s movements provide a rhythmic and repetitive pattern that is similar to how humans walk.

The rhythmic movement and warmth of the horse help relieve spastic muscles and promote relaxation.

Children have to use their muscles and joints to help them stay on the horse. Over time, this increases their strength and range of motion.

Using hippotherapy in combination with traditional physical therapy will yield the best results.

Psychological Benefits of Hippotherapy for Cerebral Palsy

Your child’s mental state is just as important as their physical state.

Psychological benefits of hippotherapy include improved:

  • Self-confidence
  • Self-esteem
  • Motivation
  • Attention span/ Concentration
  • Spatial awareness

It’s exciting to see improvements, and when your child starts to notice the changes in their walking, they’ll develop more confidence.

Like we mentioned earlier, the child is having so much fun interacting with the horse, they don’t even realize how many micromovements they’re making.

Hippotherapy for Cerebral Palsy

hippotherapy for cerebral palsy
photo credit: 2nd Lt. Shelley Gregory

Some children may experience an initial fear of the horses but after a while, they should slowly get more comfortable around them.

Many people notice that when they stop or take a break from hippotherapy, their functional abilities worsen.

Hippotherapy provides a unique, multi-sensory experience that works on correcting movements, regulating muscle tone, and stimulating trunk control while keeping the child interested and motivated.

Hopefully, this article helped you get a better idea of how hippotherapy for cerebral palsy works and why it’s worth trying. Good luck!

Keep It Going: See Fun Ways to Recover from Cerebral Palsy

Finally! There’s a recovery device for CP that’s actually fun to use. See how Flint Rehab’s tools are helping with CP recovery:

“The FitMi and MusicGlove have done wonders for my son with hemiparesis from cerebral palsy and stroke. It motivates him to do his exercises. It does not seem like therapy for him since it is fun. It monitors his progress so it is a great reinforcement for him. Music is a motivator for him. He has been using it on his arm and we will try the leg exercises soon.”

FitMi works by motivating high repetition of therapeutic exercises while playing an engaging game. This gamification has been particularly great for motivating individuals with cerebral palsy to recover.

To see how FitMi works, click here »