How Equine Therapy Can Help Those With Cerebral Palsy

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Cerebral palsy, or CP, is the most common motor disability in children. Though the brain injury or problem that causes cerebral palsy occurs before birth the majority of the time, it’s possible for it to occur at the time a child is born or within the first three years of life. If it happens before or at birth, it may be due to a lack of oxygen, blood, or nutrients to the brain at the time.

There are three different main types of cerebral palsy and they range in severity. There is quadriplegia, where the arms and legs are affected. Diplegia affects mostly the legs, and perhaps the arms minimally. Hemiplegia affects the arm and leg on only one side of the body. This may appear as an individual tending to drag one side while walking with braces.

The array of physical capabilities depends on many factors. A lot of individuals with cerebral palsy have the ability to walk with assistance and make efforts to build and develop muscle strength and flexibility.

This disorder does not worsen over time, but the symptoms associated with it can be managed and improved. Learning how equine therapy can help those with cerebral palsy is sure to spark interest in those who have the condition or those who work with individuals with CP.

Mental Health Benefits

When discussing equine therapy vs. hippotherapy, both utilize the walking gait of a real horse or machinery that mimics that movement to improve health. The difference is that equine therapy is geared more toward the mental benefits attributed based on this mode of exercise. The great thing about the mental health benefits of such therapy is that they cannot come without the development of many areas.

As an individual with cerebral palsy begins equine or horseback riding therapy, they have something to look forward to. They get to focus their social skills while doing exercise, almost unknowingly. Especially in children, this way of working the body and mind is a powerful tool for positive reinforcement as it is enjoyable. Equine and hippotherapy are two of the same because the brain is also being stimulated as thousands of muscles are activated simultaneously.

Gross Motor Skills

A great way to boost morale in an individual who is working tirelessly to become stronger and more autonomous is to work on gross motor skills. There are many ways to do this, and all aspects of physical development, strengthening, and growth will contribute to their overall better mental health.

A great way to be able to get consistent equine and hippotherapy throughout any weather conditions, regardless of horse availability, is to use equipment that mimics horseback riding therapy. Chariot Innovations offers assistive equipment that does just that. The MiraColt provides the movements of the horse in a consistent and controlled environment, eliminating independent variables such as poor weather, ornery animals or patients, and accessibility complications.

Some of the gross motor skill benefits and developments include:

  • Core Strength- The movements associated with horseback riding therapy pushes the individual riding to hold on to the horn of a saddle or in the case of the MiraColt, the handle. The individuals will also need to keep themselves upright by using core muscles, as well as their legs and hips.
  • Balance- Developing the core helps with balance as the individual grows stronger and learns to continuously use their own inner strength to stay upright.
  • Hip Abduction- The legs have to go down around the horse or the machine. This increases hip movement, strength, and flexibility as the rider uses the hips with balance to remain in place. Hip abductors are often forgotten about, but contribute greatly to our ability to stand, walk, and rotate our legs comfortably. There is no way around working the hips and increasing flexibility in the abductors while implementing horseback riding therapy.
  • Flexibility- There are many ways to become more flexible. Sitting atop a moving animal or object can be very difficult at first, but the activation of muscles and the opening of the hips contributes to flexibility.

Engaging

Equine therapy is engaging for an individual with cerebral palsy and the people around him or her. While riding, there is a calmness to allow for discussion, especially while the brain is being stimulated.

Additionally, the individual is completely engaged in the activity at hand due to the number of muscle groups and concentration that go into keep balance and remaining seated. The time spent riding can also meet a variety of seemingly opposite areas of therapy, as it engages one in conversation while doing a pretty significant workout.

Enjoyable

Many patients find equine therapy to be very enjoyable. Especially for small children, it feels more like a ride or a reward than work. Its benefits allow equine therapy to be used often, and although it may be difficult at first, it should produce noticeable progress over a short period of time. Even with only a few sessions, there is evidence of strength building as well as speech developments.

As an individual finds it easier to communicate their wants, needs, and thoughts, their spirits are lifted. People who feel as though they can be understood are less frustrated. Similarly, being able to have more independence when it comes to moving, walking, balance, posture, and talking will surely make life more enjoyable and easier in general.

Challenges

At the end of the day, therapy is supposed to challenge the individual receiving it. As things start to get easier, the repetition, intensity, and the number of times things are done may increase. Accepting new challenges means that progression is taking place. The great thing about equine therapy is that the benefits are so vast that it can continue for as long as necessary without ever plateauing.

At the end of the day, the ways equine therapy can help those with cerebral palsy aren’t much different than the ways of hippotherapy. Everything goes back to our brains, and stimulating them creates a lot of activation in many different areas of the body. Cerebral palsy can be a difficult and trying diagnosis, but its condition can be maintained fairly well with consistency and proper therapy.

For any additional questions, refer to Chariot Innovations to gather the information you need to help your child begin their journey into equine therapy. The benefits are boundless, and with many opportunities to become stronger in both mind and body, there’s no doubt this avenue of therapy will improve your child’s quality of life.

Cerebral Palsy