Greek researchers, in their review of studies involving interventions using a horse as a therapeutic tool, note from the results that there is a “significant positive impact” with such therapies among adults and children with disabilities.

The review from Alexandra N. Stergiou and colleagues of Medical School of Ioannina, Greece, involved 16 studies evaluating two types of equine-assisted activities: therapeutic riding, defined as some type of adaptive or modified horseback riding with a therapeutic goal; or hippotherapy, which uses the movement of the horse for therapeutic purposes.

Eight studies assessed the effects of equine-assisted therapies for children with cerebral palsy, including a total of 434 patients. Four studies evaluated the use of these interventions to improve mobility in older adults with multiple health problems and disabilities, 90 patients; and three studies addressed patients with multiple sclerosis, 52 patients. One study, including 20 patients, assessed the use of hippotherapy for patients after a stroke, explains a media release from Wolters Kluwer Health: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

According to the researchers, the results from the studies suggest that therapeutic riding or hippotherapy had a “significant positive impact” in all groups of patients studied. Individual studies reported small but significant improvements in outcomes such as balance, motor function, posture, gait, muscle symmetry, pelvic movement, psychosocial factors, and quality of life, the release adds.

For example, available evidence suggests that patients with neuromotor disabilities demonstrated benefits; children with cerebral palsy showed improvement on measures of walking and gross motor function; and older adults, including stroke survivors, provided evidence of increased balance and leg muscle strength.

The researchers note that further studies will be needed to examine how horseback riding interventions could affect other outcomes, such as daily activity levels and patient self-competence.

“Equine-assisted therapies potentially provide advantage for cognitive, emotional, and social well-being,” Stergiou and her coauthors write, per the release. “Individuals who participate have the opportunity to simultaneously experience, benefit and enjoy the outdoors, which might not otherwise be readily available.”

The study was published recently in the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, the official journal of the Association of Academic Physiatrists.

[Source(s): Wolters Kluwer Health: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins; Newswise]