skip to Main Content
[font_awesome icon="phone"] 1-800-987-654[font_awesome icon="envelope"] [email protected][font_awesome icon="user"][wp_login_url text="User Login" logout_text="Logout"]

Horseback riding improves motor skills in children with cerebral palsy, study finds

Researchers at the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology have confirmed that horseback riding is a viable mobility treatment for cerebral palsy. The study shows that functional mobility in children with cerebral palsy can be improved through physical interaction with horses. Image: Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology

The functional mobility of children with cerebral palsy can be improved through physical interaction with horses, new research shows.

Cerebral palsy is a common disability in children characterized by abnormal gait patterns and the inability to maintain posture and balance.

Although the disease is incurable, physiotherapy treatments can help improve movement and balance.

One such therapeutic approach is hippotherapy, which uses horseback riding to improve functional mobility in children with cerebral palsy. Although supported by scientific studies as an effective therapeutic approach for the disease, there is little data on how it results in improvement.

A team of researchers from Korea and the United States addressed this question in a study recently published in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation. The study team investigated the physical interaction metrics between horses and children with cerebral palsy during hippotherapy.

“My initial research interests are in the rehabilitation of people with neurological disorders, particularly walking and balance,” said study director Dr. Pilwon Hur, of the Institute of Science and Technology of Gwangju in Korea.

“However, I didn’t know about hippotherapy until fairly recently, in 2016. After realizing how effective it is in treating children with cerebral palsy, I was motivated to explore it further. “

The research team studied four children with cerebral palsy during eight physiotherapy sessions. They placed sensors on horses and children to record their movements and track their acceleration and angular velocity.

They found that the data from horses and children started to look similar over time, indicating synchronization between horse and rider. They also gave the children mobility tests after each session and observed an improvement in their motor skills at the end of the experiment.

“We have found that the physical interaction between children with cerebral palsy and horses, characterized by children’s adaptation to horse movements and vice versa, is extremely important for rehabilitation to be effective,” says Hur.

Excited by these findings, the team hopes their work will provide a baseline for further research into hippotherapy.

“To the best of my knowledge, ours is the first study to quantify these interactions and link them to efficacy,” said Hur. “Such an understanding would help us optimize physiotherapy programs, thereby improving the quality of life for children with CP.”

Lightsey, P., Lee, Y., Krenek, N. et al. Physiotherapy treatments integrating equine movement: a pilot study exploring the interactions between children with cerebral palsy and the horse. J NeuroEngineering Rehabil 18, 132 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12984-021-00929-w

The study, published under a Creative Commons license, can be read here.

Back To Top