Horseback riding can improve motor function and balance in people with cerebral palsy (CP) and other disabilities, says a new study.
The study, “Therapeutic Effects of Horseback Riding Interventions: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis,” appeared in the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. It suggests that activities and therapies involving horses have a positive effect on balance, motor function, gait, spasticity and coordination disabilities.
For the study, Greek researchers reviewed results of 16 past studies assessing two types of intervention: therapeutic riding and hippotherapy. The first is a type of adaptive or modified horseback riding with a therapeutic goal; the second takes advantage of the horse’s movement as a therapy in itself.
Of the 16 studies, eight assessed the effects of equine-assisted activities in 434 children with CP. Four evaluated the benefits of these interventions in 90 older adults with several health problems and disabilities; three other studies assessed these interventions in 52 patients with multiple sclerosis, and one study assessed the use of hippotherapy in 20 patients after a stroke.
In fact, hippotherapy helped all patients studied. Individual studies pointed towards improvements in balance, motor function, posture, gait, muscle symmetry and psychosocial factors, as well as overall quality of life. And while therapeutic riding was not particularly beneficial for balance, it seemed to have several positive effects on gross motor function.
In addition, children with CP improved their walking and gross motor function after riding on horseback.
“Equine-assisted therapies potentially provide advantage for cognitive, emotional and social well-being,” the study’s lead author, Alexandra N. Stergiou of the Medical School of Ioannina, Greece, said in a press release. “Individuals who participate have the opportunity to simultaneously experience, benefit and enjoy the outdoors, which might not otherwise be readily available.”
Stergiou added: “The evidence for therapeutic riding and hippotherapy is encouraging, but with gaps in that there are very few studies of these interventions in the international literature.”