Thursday, August 05, 2010

Researching Hippotherapy

For my third Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery book, I've decided that I want Claire's brother to own a stable and for his wife to run a hippotherapy charity at the stable. Hippotherapy is the use of horses to help challenged children and adults gain confidence, muscle strength and greater flexibility, among other benefits. A more detailed explanation can be found at the American Hippotherapy Association's website. After I learned as much as I could from reading about the the therapy, I decided I needed to observe some sessions being conducted and interview an expert.

There are many hippotherapy nonprofit organizations in Colorado, but I chose one situated close to home at Mark Reyner Stables, a well-known riding center in Colorado Springs. It is called the Colorado Springs Therapeutic Riding Center. Manager Nancy Harrison was kind enough to let me observe an afternoon's worth of half-hour sessions conducted in their lesson ring and to sit with me and answer all of my questions. One important thing I learned is that the need for the therapy is great, and the funding is insufficient to serve all the clients, mostly children, who could benefit. So, I encourage you to donate to a hippotherapy nonprofit near you, if you are interested.

The photo above is of one of many saddles the Colorado Springs Therapeutic Riding Center has hand-altered to assist their clients in staying on one of their calm, well-conditioned horses. At each session, the instructor, usually a physical, occupational, or speech therapist with additional hippotherapy training, teaches and constantly encourages the client. And with one child who could not sit by herself, the instructor rode the horse behind the child and helped her balance and move her legs and arms appropriately.

A volunteer walks next to the horse's head holding a leader, and two other volunteers walk on either side of the horse, for safety reasons. Depending on the client, they may hold onto the client's ankles to keep him in the stirrups, grasp handholds on a safety belt the client wears to help her stay balanced, or just walk alongside, prepared to react if the client slips. The primary benefit of hippotherapy is building core body strength and balance, but Nancy related many other benefits she's seen in clients. These benefits include attention and language development, relaxation of spasmed limbs, reduction of anger or depression, increased mobility, and so on.

Hippotherapy can be used to treat many neurological, skeletal, muscular and emotional disorders, including autism, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Down syndrome, traumatic brain or spinal cord injuries, stroke, attention deficit disorders, learning or language disabilities and visual or hearing impairments. It's especially helpful for children because their brains are more amenable to development and change. All I know is that during the afternoon, I heard the sweetest sounds on Earth from these severely disabled children--the infectious giggles of sheer happiness.


Kaye George said...

My daughter has done a lot with hippotherapy. She is a licensed to Long Rein, and used to do a lot of it. It's a great tool for mentally and physically handicapped adults and children!

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for letting me know, Kaye! I may ask your daughter for some information, though I have a great local expert to go to, too.

Anonymous said...

what are some questions people ask a hippotherapy instructor? I'm doing my senior project on how horses influence people's lives and i would like to interview an instructor at our local TREC.

Beth Groundwater said...

Good question, anonymous! Some of the things I asked were what training was required for therapists, what kinds of clients they have and what hippotherapy does for each, what characteristics a horse needs to be good for hippotherapy, etc. Ask if you can observe a session or two, also, and that will prompt more questions.

Anonymous said...

thank you so much that helps a lot!

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