Hippotherapy Evaluation Aided by Technology, Report Says

The ability to measure changes in pressure values at the points of contact between a rider and a horse is anticipated to be an important tool in advancing the quality of hippotherapy, say researchers from Eastern Europe.

Hippotherapy is a physical, occupational and speech therapy treatment strategy that utilizes equine movement. A hippotherapist uses the horse's movement to provide carefully graded sensory input. A foundation is established to improve neurologic function and sensory processing, which can be generalized to a wide range of daily activities.

According to researcher Miroslav Janura from the Department of Biomechanics and Engineering Cybernetics at Palacky University Olomouc in the Czech Republic, studies evaluating the effect of hippotherapy on spasticity and mental well-being have been conducted; however, no studies have been performed to quantify the interaction between the horse and rider.

To assess the changes in magnitude and distribution of the contact pressure between horse and rider during a series of hippotherapy lessons, four healthy women with no riding experience received five 20-minute lessons over a three-week period. Researchers measured pressure magnitude via a specialized elastic pad containing sensors that was placed on the horse's back.

Over the course of the study they noticed an increase in contact between the rider and horse. The rider's stability was markedly improved, as evidenced by a significant increase in the maximum pressure and a significant decrease of deviations in the center of pressure.

The authors concluded that this research will enhance the quality of a patient's individual hippotherapy lessons.

The study, "An assessment of the pressure distribution exerted by a rider on the back of a horse during hippotherapy," was published in the June 2009 edition of the journal Human Movement Science.

Read more about therapy horses.  

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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