The Benefits of Hippotherapy (Horse Therapy)
By David Volz / January 1, 2015
Shortly after Gracie Thoma was born, her mother Christa realized she was not developing properly. She could not feed herself and was not learning to stand. Gracie was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, and her mother wanted the best therapy for her. Soon Gracie become involved with the Bit-By-Bit Medical Therapeutic Riding Center and began to progress in her physical development. She is now two years old. "Gracie has developed strength in her muscles and can now feed herself, sit up and move," says Christa.
Denise Panariello, an Occupational Therapist at Bit-By-Bit enjoys helping children with disabilities. "By having Gracie sit on a horse, we have been able to foster her physical improvement. With this treatment, her muscles are developing," explains Panariello.
Max Comerford suffers from Ataxia Telangiectasia, a rare genetic disorder. He is now 25 and has been riding horses at Bit-By-Bit since he was nine. "I think it is awesome. Being on a horse has really helped me," he declares.
While people with physical disabilities can benefit from riding horses, it is also a great form of exercise for people with no disabilities. Kathleen Pegues, Executive Director for Bit-By-Bit and an Occupational Therapist, points out that the multi-dimensional movement of the horse stimulates the rider's neurological system and promotes health. It increases strength in the rider's muscles. "We assist children with Autism and Cerebral Palsy, as well as other developmental disorders. It is good exercise for all people because it promotes wellness," asserts Pegues. Horseback riding is just a very good form of exercise. It can stimulate breathing and builds muscles. It also helps develop coordination and increases balance. It can improve visual motor skills. "We believe horseback riding is a good form of exercise for everyone," states Pegues.
Therapeutic riding encourages people with special needs to learn about horsemanship, riding skills, balance, and coordination, following directions and completing multi-step obstacles. It also aids with socialization, self-esteem and creates a sense of accomplishment. The therapeutic riding lessons are taught by professionals who have been certified in the teaching of therapeutic. Bit-By-Bit works with people who have various types of challenges. The teachers are patient and will work with people at their own pace, using horse leaders and side walkers. The goal is to encourage independence and to help riders to experience the freedom that comes from riding a horse.
At Bit-By-Bit, hippotherapy is the treatment strategy. It is a physical, occupational and speech language therapy that utilizes equine movement as part of an integrated intervention program to achieve functional outcomes. Hippotherapy is a medical treatment session that uses the horse as a tool to help each rider reach his individualized therapeutic goals. For those with severe physical disabilities, Bit-By-Bit offers tandem hippotherapy, where the therapist sits behind the rider on the horse. Equine movement provides multidimensional movement, which is variable, rhythmic and repetitive. The horse provides a dynamic base of support, making it an excellent tool for increasing trunk strength and control, balance, building overall postural strength and endurance. Equine movement can be used to facilitate coordination and time, respiratory control, sensory integration skills and attention skills, as well as facilitate the neurophysiologic systems that support people's functional living skills.
Bit-By-Bit also offers the Horses for Heroes veterans program. Bit-By-Bit has partnered with the Miami Veterans' Administration and the Disabled American Veterans Organization to ensure quality and specialized care for veterans.
Bit-By-Bit has a location at Sand and Spurs Equestrian Park at 1600 Northeast Fifth Avenue, Pompano Beach and Bit-By-Bit Horses Tales Ranch at 3141 Southwest 118th Terrace, Davie. For more information, go to www.bitbybittherapy.com.
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