Hippotherapy has been on our radar for Emma for a long time. We first ruled out Atlantoaxial Instability by x-ray when Emma turned two. As soon as we got the okay from our pediatrician we pressed forward as quickly as possible. Horses have always been a part of Chad's family and I wanted to continue the tradition with our children. Grant and Olivia love the horses and enjoy riding them, I want the same for Emmalin. We were very relieved the day we received the news that riding would be safe for her.
Understanding the majestic power horses yield may help explain the power of hippotherapy, which “refers to the use of the movement of the horse as a treatment strategy by physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech/language pathologists to address impairments, functional limitations and disabilities in patients with neuromotor and sensory dysfunction,” according to the American Hippotherapy Association (AHA).
The horse's pelvis has a similar three-dimensional movement to the human's pelvis at the walk. The horse's movement is carefully graded at the walk in each treatment for the patient. This movement provides physical and sensory input which is variable, rhythmic and repetitive. The variability of the horse's gait enables the therapist to grade the degree of input to the patient and use this movement in combination with other treatment strategies to achieve desired therapy goals or functional outcomes. In addition, the three-dimensional movement of the horse's pelvis leads to a movement response in the patient's pelvis which is similar to the movement patterns of human walking. A foundation is established to improve neurological function and sensory processing, which can be generalized to a wide range of daily activities and address functional outcomes and therapy goals.
Lori Garone is a physical therapist who also is a board certified clinical specialist in hippotherapy. She explains, "the horse's movement… access[es a patient's] central nervous system… by the repetitive and innate rhythm of the horse's walk."
Garone says that movement creates "new motor, sensory and speech pathways in the brain" that can help a patient reach developmental, motor and speech goals.
Garone works for AHA and is a AHA past board director. She says after being around horses her entire life, their ability to heal has never surprised her.
"Incorporating the horse into human rehabilitation certainly is a more natural way for us to heal ourselves in any variety of ways," she explains.
She emphasizes, "[Hippotherapy] is not riding a horse, nor is it horse therapy or equestrian therapy. It is either physical, occupational or speech therapy, and when a specially trained team of therapist, horse, horse handler and side helper incorporate it into a patient's therapy, goals are reached faster."
Hippotherapy is a treatment strategy that "has been incorporated into patients [Plan of Care] for over 25 years in this country and over 40 years in Germany, Austria and most of Europe," Garone explains. Garone began a private practice on Long Island, New York, in 1990 called Physical Therapy In Motion, which incorporates hippotherapy into patients' treatment. AHA's website shares testimonials from parents of children who have achieved significant success through treatment with horses. "Hippotherapy is more effective than traditional therapies because horses have a unique ability to motivate children to try new things," explains the parents.
For a parent of a child with Down syndrome, the hint of a promise at progress is compelling enough to pursue hippotherapy even when health insurance provides no coverage.
"I cannot say enough wonderful things about [hippotherapy]," shares Ashley, whose 8-year-old son has Down syndrome and recently began treatment at Horse ”N” Around in Lancaster, South Carolina. "It was expensive for us; insurance did not pay," she says. "But, when we were there, I always had a moment of: 'This is worth it, and I will do whatever it takes!'"
As Ashley watched her son interact with his speech therapist (who is trained specifically in hippotherapy), she marveled at his response on various levels, from following commands to talking to and guiding the horse.
His therapist adapted the treatment plan to his sensory issues, finding a larger and thus stronger horse with a heavier trot. "He didn't do as well with the smaller horses," Ashley explains. "He needed the strong input of the bigger horses."
"He was so at peace there," she shares. "I loved hearing him talk so much, follow directions, smile and just enjoy the whole atmosphere and experience."
To find a physical therapist, occupational therapist or speech/language pathologist who is trained in hippotherapy, visit AHA’s resource page.
We currently use Beyond Boundaries and they are amazing. Our OT, Lori Tankersly, who has been one of my anchor's over the past couple of years, works with Emma during hippotherapy. She is assisted by Tyler Stone, who Emma absolutely LOVES, and Kandi Brandon, so sweet and patient. Below is a video of our experience with hippotherapy.
I also want to recognize Jamie Carman-Reagan who is the Program Director at Beyond Boundaries and Beth Stamp who is the Executive Director of Beyond Boundaries and owner of Allied Therapy and Consulting Services.
The following articles have appeared in the magazine during the last few years.
You can read more about Down syndrome and Atlantoaxial Instability at http://www.ndss.org/Resources/Health-Care/Associated-Conditions/Atlantoaxial-Instability-Down-Syndrome/
Beyond Boundaries is located at 2195 Peyton Street in Ward AR. For more information you can contact Jamie Carman-Reagan at 501-941-1522 or visit their website.