Winston Churchill once said “No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.” This holds true in the My Heroes environment. At my Heroes Therapy, the horse is used in many ways to improve quality of life. The Hippotherapy provided here can be described as the use of movement of the horse as a treatment strategy to address impairments, sensory dysfuntion, and functional limitations. Throughout sessions the therapist is cognizant of these functional limitations and provide gradations to adhere to the goals provided. The therapists set goals depending on the client and the outcome desired by addressing functions such as sensory stimulation, sensory processing, balance, coordination, strength, endurance, proprioceptive input, social participation, self-initiation, and sequencing. The horse’s movement also helps with fine motor skills, visual motor skills, bilateral coordination, attention, and cognition. Our therapies provided are unique to other settings as the movement is multi-dimensional, variable, rhythmic, and repetitive. The horse’s movement is purely what influences the patient to respond and obtain envisioned outcomes. As mentioned before the benefit of the horse is extramental for any rider but it is necessary to be aware of the horse’s movement and what may benefit or potential cause regression in the rider’s outcomes. Therefore, the therapist and the therapeutic riding instructor needs to have a sufficient understanding of the horse’s movement when pairing them with the rider.
The importance of the horse’s temperament and their movement is important to how the rider is involved. There are four different variations of gait that are well known throughout the horse community, which include a Walk, Trot (jog), Canter (Run), and Gallop (Sprinting). These specific gaits are used throughout treatment sessions are important movements but we would like to tell you a little more about the movement that impacts the rider.
As we know, all of us walk differently and have a different movement than our family and friends. Each horse’s movement is different which makes it unique and depicts which horse we will match with their rider. There are four movements of the horse that can be felt while riding, this can also be different dependent on the feel of the rider as well. The therapist is always aware of the impact the movement has on the rider. The four movements are Anterior/Posterior, Lateral, Rotational, and Concussive. These movements are something any rider can feel on horseback and can also be observed from the ground.
Anterior/ Posterior movement is also considered forward and backward rocking motion of the riders’ hips. This movement is necessary for the rider to gain strength and incorporate balance a multi-dimensional plane. Therapist look at this movement and gauge if it is appropriate for the rider as some horses have an exaggerated anterior/posterior movement. For example, a rider who has poor balance and body awareness can utilize this movement to get stronger to prevent future falls. These concepts also apply to the Lateral movement is also considered side-to-side motion. Therapists often look for this movement to aid in strengthening of the riders core , as well as, allowing additional challenge to the riders proprioceptive understanding. The rotational movement is a motion that involves the riders hips, providing a rotational input into their hips. This strengthens and incorporates many muscles that aid in movement such as, walking, balancing, squatting down, and many functional movements.
Concussive movement is also demonstrated by the “bounciness” the horse’s movement provides to the rider. Our therapists are interested in the cost/benefit analysis of the concussion that the rider may experience. For example, if your back hurts there are some movements or activities you would like to avoid such as jumping on a trampoline. Or if you have low tone and need a little extra movement to increase muscle tone, which can be achieved with a horse who has increased movement. All of these movements are extremital to the use of the horse during therapy and the outcomes and goals achieved.
These movements can engage a rider and evidence has demonstrated numerous occurrences of times that interactions such as direct eye contact, following of directions, development of bilateral coordination, engagement with peers or volunteers, strengthening, and in some cases verbalizations. All of which are reported by the parents or caregivers as improvements and positive experiences that often do not occur outside of Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies.