Hippotherapy for children with cerebral palsy | Fieldfisher
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Hippotherapy for children with cerebral palsy shows horse and rider move as one

Mark Bowman
The fantastically positive impact of horse riding therapy, which many of the team have already witnessed first-hand, has been highlighted by a study from Korea and the US, reported in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation.

Working with four children with CP, the researchers found that the children's functional mobility improved through physical interaction with horses. This was characterised by the children adapting to the horse's movement and vice versa, which massively improved the effect of rehabilitation.

CP is often characterised by abnormal gait patterns and the inability to maintain posture and balance. While the condition is incurable, physical therapy treatments do much to improve movement, funding for which is integral to our claims. But, while practitioners, and solicitors, have long be aware of the benefits, there has been little formal data to underpin its success.

The scientists in this latest study put sensors on the children and horses to record their movements and track things like acceleration and angular velocity. They found that after a while, the data from the horses and children began to resemble each other, indicating the horse and the rider had begun to synchronise.

Mobility tests on the children after each riding session also showed improvements in their motor skills.

The hope is this study will be a baseline for further research on hippotherapy which in turn should increase physical therapy programmes that without doubt massively improve the quality of life for children with CP, not least by giving them a confidence boost in what they can achieve plus an inordinate amount of joy in movement.

One only has to read Lottie Sharp's story to agree.

Accessing hippotherapy

Our Court of Protect team (COP) has long been involved in managing the affairs of clients involved in birth injury claims who, as part of their claims, are provided funds to buy and look after horses and ponies, generally treating the animals as much loved family pets. Each of these clients are testimony to the amazing impact of riding therapy.

Where physiotherapists and occupational therapists caring for a child with cerebral palsy are able to give evidence that the child would benefit from learning to ride, the costs of buying and housing a horse at home can generally be included in the schedule of damages of that claim.

Once the funds are available, the team gets to work to help access the right horse and often also helps finds suitable accommodation for the family with stables, or the horse is kept at stables close-by.

These children have often never ridden before and, obviously, it takes time and patience for them to learn. And beyond the incredible physical impact it has on their movement, they also benefit hugely from learning to care for a horse every day and develop a strong bond with their much loved animal who often becomes their confidant.

In one recent case, we asked a client – a young girl - how having a horse at home made her feel. The answer was simply 'happy'.