Hippotherapy & Cerebral Palsy Research

Can horse riding reduce the effects of spasticity in the limbs of children with cerebral palsy?

Janie Giraudon, a medical student at the University of Dundee, is currently carrying out research which aims to discover if there are any positive changes in pressure distribution in children with Cerebral Palsy during therapeutic horse riding (Hippotherapy). Janie has taken a year out from her medical studies to conduct this research, supervised by Dr Sheila Gibbs, Dr Graham Arnold and Professor Rami Abboud, as part of an Intercalated BMSc honours in Applied Orthopaedic Technology at the Department of Orthopaedic & Trauma Surgery based in the TORT Centre.

Janie is investigating whether muscle spasticity is reduced due to Hippotherapy. This involves measuring the seating pressure of the children before, during and after horse riding using a pressure sensitive mat placed on the saddle and wheelchair accordingly. The findings of the research will hopefully benefit physiotherapists and as a result have a positive effect and even lead to a change in the view of Hippotherapy within the current NHS system. Medical professionals already recognise there are significant therapeutic benefits for the rider. The warmth and three-dimensional movement of the horse is transmitted through the rider’s body gradually making it more relaxed and supple, reducing spasms and improving balance, muscle-tone, co-ordination and posture. Janie has been assisted with her data collection by Ian Gibbs, Rehabilitation Technician, at the Institute of Motion Analysis & Research.

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The Brae Riding School in Dundee have been fantastic in allowing us to conduct the research at their stables where they have been providing horse riding therapy for disabled adults and children since 2008. Special posters and leaflets aimed at the children were distributed at the School and seven children, with the blessing of their parents, volunteered to take part in the study with data being collected at each of their riding sessions over a six-month period. The children were not required to do anything differently but just sit on their horse and enjoy their normal riding session which they always do.

Janie Giraudon stated:

“Ever since visiting the Brae a year ago with the Medical School, I have been very interested in the therapeutic benefits of working with horses. I have always had an interest in paediatrics and especially cerebral palsy. Doing a BMSc in Applied Orthopaedic Technology allowed me to carry out a project with CP children and I thought to explore the idea of Hippotherapy further. That's when I got the idea of investigating spasticity in the limbs of children with CP and seeing how this is affected by Hippotherapy. Working with the staff at the Brae in order to carry out this project has been very enjoyable. They have been extremely helpful and very welcoming. It was easy to find participants because everyone contacted was happy to take part. It has been great working with the children and getting to know them all. I am confident in saying that because of this project and all the people I have met, that this has been one of my best years at university so far. I would like to say a big thank you to Ian Gibbs, one of our technicians, without who this project would not have been possible.”

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Mary Sneddon, Centre Manager at the Brae noted:

“We all thoroughly enjoyed working in partnership with Janie and Ian. Riders, carers, families, Brae volunteers and staff were very interested in the research undertaken and look forward to seeing the end results. It was a great opportunity to add to the evidence supporting the benefits of therapeutic riding and to help attract much needed funding. This was the first time we have had the opportunity to engage with external researchers since we opened seven years ago and it was very much a positive experience for both parties.”

Professor Rami Abboud, Head of the Department of Orthopaedic & Trauma Surgery, and Director of the Institute of Motion Analysis & Research (IMAR) stated:

“This is a very interesting and rewarding area of equestrian research to follow on from our previous study on ‘horse riding and jockeys’. Janie’s enthusiasm, knowledge and skills in her own research project have enabled her, along with four of her fellow BMSc students, to have her research accepted for podium presentation at the 13th Staffordshire Conference on Clinical Biomechanics, in Stoke on Trent, UK on April 23-25, 2015. This Hippotherapy study is continuing IMAR’s impressive research portfolio whilst interacting and hopefully benefitting the local community. It is Centres such as the Brae who allow us the access and freedom to pursue novel and unique avenues of research such as this outside the confines of the laboratory to try and improve the quality of life of patients in general. I hope this research has a positive effect on the understanding and wider use of therapeutic horse riding within the NHS, whilst continuing a better understanding of the mechanics and complexities of cerebral palsy.”

The Brae is a registered Charity