Hippotherapy improves balance in youth with ID

By Paraskevi Giagazoglou
Assistant professor of Special Education
Department of Physical Education and Sports Science
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

People with intellectual disabilities (ID) often experience limitations in motor abilities. Oftentimes, balance and strength of individuals with ID are poor. Participation in hippotherapy (horse therapy) is a way to improve movement and may significantly improve daily activities and quality of life. Research shows that horse’s movement helps in improving individual’s balance, and increases strength in the lower limbs.

What did you do in your research?
The aim of this study was to assess the effects of a hippotherapy program on balance and strength in adolescents with ID. Participants followed a 30-min hippotherapy session, twice a week for 10-weeks, which included activities that gradually increased in difficulty.

What did you find out?
We found a significant improvement in participants’ balance and strength after the hippotherapy session. The rhythmic forward and backward movement of the horse trained the thigh muscles of the participants and improved weight shift and posture.

What are the take-home messages?
Improved balance increases stability while doing activities of daily living or work-related tasks thus decreasing the chance of accidents or falls. Hippotherapy can be an alternative exercise option for people with ID. It can be both fun and therapeutic. The emotional experience of physical contact of the human being and the horse, along with the interaction of movement can be a great experience for adolescent with ID. In addition, this activity can help them keep their interest towards exercise into their adulthood.

To learn more about these findings contact
Paraskevi Giagazoglou.

Full Journal Article
Giagazoglou, P., Arabatzi, F., Dipla, K., Liga, M., & Kellis, E. (2012). Effect of a hippotherapy intervention program on static balance and strength in adolescents with intellectual disabilities. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 33(6), 2265–2270.