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Healing on Horseback -- May 2009

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Healing on Horseback

By: Kristin Sumlar, PT

If you’ve ever been a patient, or been close to a patient, you’ve felt the medical grind and yearned for a treatment that is as enjoyable as it is effective. Hippotherapy, literally meaning “therapy with the help of a horse,” is both.

Derived from the Greek word hippos, meaning horse, hippotherapy is a treatment strategy used by specially-trained Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists, and Speech-Language Pathologists to work toward a multitude of functional goals. With the patient on the horse, a horse handler leads the horse as the therapist strides purposefully beside the rider, providing physical support to the patient when needed. The rider responds to the horse’s multidimensional and rhythmic movement with increased strength, balance, flexibility, and endurance. Positive effects are also seen in coordination, sensorimotor integration, respiration, speech production, and attention.

When a patient is sitting astride the horse, without a saddle, the movement imparted to the rider is remarkably similar to the normal human walking pattern. He or she may be asked to sit or lie down forward, backward, or sideways on the horse, or even stand in the stirrups. The patient does physical and cognitive exercises and plays games while the therapist carefully monitors the movement of the horse and the patient. Challenges presented to the patient in this unique environment are most often met with a smile.

Not only are the therapists and horse handlers specially trained, the horses as well are chosen and trained with care. Horses must meet specific selection criteria regarding movement quality. They must be willing to work and to listen. They must be gentle and patient. The horse, horse handler, and therapist come together as a team, and their safety record is outstanding.

Autism, cerebral palsy, developmental delay, genetic syndromes, learning disabilities, sensory integration disorders, speech-language disorders, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Down syndrome, traumatic brain injury, stroke, spinal cord injury, spina bifida, and amputation are typical of the conditions treated with hippotherapy.

Hippotherapy can be a very effective component of a well-rounded therapy program for adults and children alike. Your physician can make a referral to Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, or Speech Therapy that includes hippotherapy. To find out more about hippotherapy, visit American Hippotherapy Association .

This Month's Featured Vendor: Sumlar Therapy Services, Inc.

Sumlar Therapy Services, Inc. serves the children of the Wiregrass, specializing in pediatric Physical, Occupational, and Speech Therapy, with hippotherapy and aquatic therapy. For more information, visit, or call (334)445-6336.

Our thanks to Kristin Sumlar, PT, our author for the month and CEO and Owner of Sumlar Therapy.

Although Kristin has worked in every aspect in the field of physical therapy, she feels her true calling is in pediatrics. She began working with children in 1998, and has concentrated on special interests of hippotherapy and aquatic therapy. In 2001, Kristin opened Sumlar Therapy

Tags: Hippotherapy Article May 2009 Newsletter