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Riding For Therapy Is A New Alternative
By Chantel Lott
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A relatively new form of therapy holds promise for individuals with various types of physical and mental disabilities and movement dysfunctions.
Therapeutic riding, or hippotherapy, offers an alternative to conventional treatment and sometimes is even used with conventional therapy.
It can be valuable at any age to persons with amputations, autism, Down Syndrome, emotional disabilities, muscular dystrophy, spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy and a variety of other conditions.
"Therapeutic horseback riding provides physical, emotional and psychological benefits to individuals with special needs," said Mary Ford, 4-H therapeutic riding instructor with Mississippi State University's Extension Service.
MSU's Extension Service is one of the first institutions to strive for professionalism and education in the field of therapeutic riding. WINGS -- Winning Independence, Gaining Strength - - is a therapeutic riding program created by the Extension Service to be a model to promote therapeutic riding through educational programs and research.
Ford coordinated weekly therapy sessions this fall for two patients from Oktibbeha County Hospital. Hospital physical therapist Glenda Tranum, Ford and volunteers guided patients through six one- hour sessions at MSU's AgriCenter.
Hippotherapy works because the three-dimensional gait of the horse is the best known simulation of the human walk. A horse has the same front-and-back, up-and-down and side-to-side rotations that are not successfully imitated by mechanical devices.
Patients sit atop the horse with a bareback pad and actively respond to the motions of the horse at walk. There is no need for riding skill because the patient need not influence the horse's movement in any way.
"Therapy in this method improves flexibility, balance and muscle strength," Ford said.
The horse's movement sends symmetrical sensory input to the rider very much like the repetitive pattern of pelvic rotation.
"We are committed to the highest standards of therapy and safety. We follow the safety guidelines set forth by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association," Ford said.
Vicky Peterson is the mother of Paige, a cerebral palsy patient who participated in hippotherapy sessions this fall.
"Paige has done physical therapy for seven years, and has grown tired of the monotony. Riding not only gives her confidence to do something she otherwise would not be able to, but has significantly lengthened her stride and increased her balance," Peterson said.
For more information about eligibility of patients or to assist as a volunteer, contact Ford at (662) 325-1695. To learn about therapy safety, visit www.narha.org on the world wide web.