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KIMMSWICK: Study on equine therapy proves results.

Gathering evidence on the effectiveness of hippotherapy,
researcher Tim L. Shurtleff presented his latest results...more

What is Hippotherapy?

It is Equine-Assisted Therapy. Hippotherapy is a treatment that uses the multi-dimensional movement of the horse; from the Greek word "hippos" which means horse. Specially trained physical, occupational and speech therapists use this medical treatment for clients who have movement dysfunction. Historically, the therapeutic benefits of the horse were recognized as early as 468 A.D. The use of the horse as therapy evolved throughout Europe, the United States and Canada.

Hippotherapy uses activities on the horses that are meaningful to the client. Treatment takes place in a controlled environment where graded sensory input can elicit appropriate adaptive responses from the client. Specific riding skills are not taught (as in therapeutic riding), but rather a foundation is established to improve neurological function and sensory processing. This foundation can then be generalized to a wide range of daily activities.

Why the Horse?

The horse's walk provides sensory input through movement, which is variable, rhythmic and repetitive. The resultant movement responses in the client are similar to human movement patterns of the pelvis while walking. The variability of the horse's gait enables the therapist to grade the degree of sensory input to the client, then use this movement in combination with other clinical treatments to achieve desired results. Clients respond enthusiastically to this enjoyable learning experience in a natural setting. Physically, Hippotherapy can improve balance, posture, and mobility. Hippotherapy may also affect psychological, cognitive, behavioral and communication functions for clients of all ages. Clients who may benefit from Hippotherapy can have a variety of diagnoses: examples include Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Developmental Delay, Traumatic Brain Injury, Stroke, Autism and Learning or Language Disabilities.

Parents of children involved in Hippotherapy have seen dramatic improvements in all aspects of their children’s lives, after only a few sessions.

Benefits of Hippotherapy

Specially trained therapists take disabled riders through complex series of movements, which consciously and unconsciously use all the body's muscles. The horse rhythmically and naturally moves the body in a manner similar to the human gait, improving posture, balance and muscle control.
Equine-assisted therapy increases concentration, improves sequential thought processing, increases the rider's ability to articulate emotions, develops special awareness.
Equine-assisted therapy provides the opportunity for riders to bond with the horse, instructor, and volunteers, which assists in the development of trust. It is also effective in calming emotive outbursts and reinforcing appropriate behaviors. Contact with the horses and horsemanship training provides a non-competitive setting for learning. New abilities, self-discipline, and improved concentration build self-confidence.

Equine-assisted therapy nurtures a positive self-image. Disabled riders often experience independence for the first time in their lives. They also develop an awareness of being part of a team. All riders have the ability to learn skills and participate in a recognized sport. All riders grow in self-esteem, which they take back into their own worlds.
Disabilities Impacted
• Attention Deficit Disorder
• Autism
• Cerebral Palsy
• Closed Head Injury
• Developmental Delay
• Down Syndrome
• Emotional Disorders
• Hearing Impairment
• Multiple Sclerosis
• Muscular Dystrophy
• Paralysis
• Scoliosis
• Spinal Bifida
• Traumatic Brain Injury

MCCD Kids Corner Spotlight

Almost every week Madilyn, 4, does saddle sit-ups during her therapeutic riding sessions. The result: increased trunk control to the point that Madilyn, who deals with the weak muscle tone of Down Syndrome, now can pull herself up from sit to stand with minimal assistance.
James, 7, who deals with cerebral palsy, needed assistance walking and could not partake in playground activities. He has been receiving equine-assisted physical therapy at the Midwest Center for Children's Development for several years and over the past year has gained the ability to walk unassisted over uneven ground and sand. He also can tackle playground equipment. The advances have opened the playground gates to James.
If you want to see Noah, 7, flash one of his wide, warm smiles - and who wouldn't want to see such a sight? Then just let him settle into the saddle for a hippo therapy session at Cowboys & Angels in Medina, Ohio. But the smile, while high wattage, is only the beginning for Noah at Cowboys & Angels. Dealing with multiple special needs, Noah uses a full range of muscle movement during hippo therapy sessions, thereby producing improved upper body strength and better balance, which are two of his therapy goals. What's more, hypnotherapy's insistence that a rider focus on the horse's movement is improving Noah's ability to follow instructions - a benefit for any seven-year-old.
Madilyn, this one nearly 5, deals with spina bifida and was unable to walk or speak. Since beginning equine assisted therapy, she has begun walking independently with a walker and has become conversational at home and school.

MCCD Supports Children at
Midwest Center for Children's Development

4701 North Oak Street, Crystal Lake, IL 60012
Phone: 815-788-1020

If you have any questions or would like to find out more about
Equine-Assisted Therapy please visit www.dreamriderstlc.com or

Email us at:


Recently some young adults from Westmont High School helped out at the
Midwest Center for Childrens Development farm.

Click here to see the article on the What's New page.



Study on equine therapy proves results

Researcher presents findings to Ride-On board

By Trish Wallace
Sunday, March 23, 2008 7:02 AM CDT

Researcher Tim L. Schurtleff measured the movements of children with cerebral palsy by using reflective markers to prove the effectiveness of hippotherapy.

Gathering evidence on the effectiveness of hippotherapy, researcher Tim L. Shurtleff presented his latest results to the Ride On St. Louis (ROSL) Board of Directors last week.

The goal of Kimmswick-based ROSL is to provide emotional, mental, physical and spiritual benefits through the use of horses in equine-assisted therapy for those who are developmentally and physically disabled.

In his research, Shurtleff wanted to measure the changes in the trunk and head stability and the upper extremity function after 12 weeks of hippotherapy for children with spastic diplegic cerebral palsy ."I never expected to do this for four years," Shurtleff said.

Yet four years and two studies after first diving into his research, Shurtleff is on his way to proving the significant improvements of children who have regular contact with the therapeutic rhythm of a horse's movement. He was quick to add that hippotherapy is indeed therapy and not a riding lesson.

According to Shurtleff, the definition of trunk stability is the ability to keep the head and neck stable while the pelvis is in motion, such as in a basketball player running down the court.

"This just provides confirmation through the community that this is therapy," Rick Wassman, ROSL executive director, said.

Shurtleff's pilot study involved six children, two of whom were involved with ROSL throughout the study.

"We wouldn't have been able to do it without groups like you," Shurtleff told the ROSL board.

Before beginning testing, Shurtleff had the daunting task of finding children who had never ridden a horse before, had not undergone Botox or surgery within the six months prior to testing and had to be able to sit upright unaided.

The children involved with the study participated in 12 weeks of 45-minute hippotherapy sessions. The therapy treatments were customized to fit each child's individual needs. Shurtleff tested the participants and a control group of children without disabilities of equivalent ages before the therapy and after the 12 weeks of interaction with the horses.

Shurtleff placed 24 reflective markers on the participants and had each child sit in two positions on a challenge barrel, which allowed them to sit with the posture similar to riding a horse. Six cameras measured the children's trunk and neck positions 60 times per second.

The study tested head angles and anterior/posterior movement. After 12 weeks of therapy, the participants cut unstable movement and wobbling in half, improving their posture, stability, visual focus and walking ability.

"They're moving into the range of normal, which is really exciting," Shurtleff said.

Shurtleff's pilot study earned him enough grant money to continue his research with a second study, for which he is finalizing results now.

In the current study, Shurtleff tested 11 new children with cerebral palsy, three of whom are involved with ROSL, and a control group of eight children without disabilities. Again, Shurtleff tested the participants before and after the 12 weeks of therapy, but this time he also tested the children 12 weeks after the conclusion of the therapy.

"Personally, I don't care if they learn to ride a horse," Shurtleff said. "I want to know if the results stuck."

The results impressed and encouraged Shurtleff. Not only did the children improve their trunk stability and upper extremity function by the same ratio as the children without disabilities improved, but 12 weeks after therapy ended, the children still showed the same improved results.

"This adds a great deal of credibility for us and for this industry," Wassman said.

Now Shurtleff is hoping to obtain a much larger grant to conduct a much larger study. His ultimate goal is to provide enough evidence of effectiveness for insurance companies to agree to cover hippotherapy as a credible therapy.

Source: Suburban Journals, by Trish Wallace
Reprinted with permission - Original Link (no longer active)