Today, I want to share a little bit about what I do as a pediatric physical therapist. Besides treating kiddos with various diagnoses in a traditional clinic setting, I'm lucky to work at a place where I also have access to the amazing treatment tool that is hippotherapy. Rehab for hippos?? (what I typically hear when I first introduce kids to hippotherapy). Not quite. Hippotherapy = the use of horseback riding as therapeutic treatment delivered by a licensed physical, occupational, or speech therapist. When I first learned about hippotherapy, I have to admit I was skeptical. How could riding a horse be useful in teaching a child with cerebral palsy to walk? Or in strengthening a child with Down syndrome? I've been working with horses for over a year now and have learned SO much since then. I've seen first hand just how many therapeutic benefits riding a horse actually has, a few of which are I've listed below.
When a horse walks, the way their pelvis moves in a 3-dimensional motion very closely mimics the way a human pelvis moves during gait. A person riding a horse therefore gets very similar movement in their spine, hips, and pelvis as they would if they were walking. This makes horseback riding an incredible tool in teaching someone how to walk. The motion of the horse and the warmth of the horse's body can also help to ease joint/muscle stiffness for kids with high muscle tone or spasticity. On the other hand, kids with excess mobility at their joints (such as in Down syndrome) and poor muscle control can benefit from riding a horse too. As the horse moves, the rider must engage their core muscles and recruit balance and postural control strategies in order to remain upright and stable. If you've ever ridden a horse, you know that it takes some leg and core muscle action to stay on, especially when the horse moves over an uneven surface or changes its speed. As a therapist, I can take advantage of the various ways a horse moves (faster vs. slower, in straight line vs. tight circles, etc.) to achieve whatever goal I'm working toward with a kiddo. A big bonus is that the kids LOVE their horse time. You just can't bond with a therapy ball the way you can connect with a horse.
Ok, so now to step off my PT soapbox for a bit and get back to what inspired this post in the first place - taking Avery for her first solo horseback ride. Among the perks of working at a clinic with a barn and horses is getting to teach my own kiddo how to ride. The very first time I put Avery on a horse, she was 20 months old. This is how that went down:
She eventually warmed up to the idea, but would only ride if I was sitting with her. Fast forward several months to her second attempt this past weekend...
She did AMAZING! I was so proud of my little munchkin. She was sat up tall, kept her little body in alignment through sharp turns, and even rode with her hands high in the air using only her leg and core muscles for support. She wasn't afraid of the horse at all, either. In fact, connecting with the horse seemed so natural to her. All of our horses (we have 5) are so gentle and loving with the kids. They are amazing animals, and if you have any children, whether they need therapy or not, I strongly encourage you to give them an opportunity to connect with at some point in their youth.
I’m Betty and I live in the beautiful pacific northwest. I'm a mommy. Vegetarian. Wife to a meatatarian. Pediatric physical therapist. Outdoor enthusiast. Enjoyer of fitness/healthy living. Even bigger enjoyer wine and chocolate lava cake. And hoping to find some balance between it all.