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Preliminary Research Results Point to Therapeutic Impact of Horses on Humans

Study records improvements for participants, and may demonstrate that improvement 'sticks' several months after treatment

Chagrin Falls, OH - January 23, 2008 The Human Performance Laboratory at the Program in Occupational Therapy of Washington University School of Medicine (St. Louis, MO) is in the final phases of data gathering for a study funded by the Horses and Humans Research Foundation's 2006 research grant.

The purpose of the study is to measure the trunk and head stability changes in children with cerebral palsy after 12 weeks of hippotherapy treatments. Head researchers Jack R. Engsberg, PhD, & Tim L. Shurtleff, OTD, OTR/L hypothesized that if trunk stability improved, then functional use of the arms and hands might also show improvement because the foundation (the trunk) and the visual and vestibular (balance and movement) sensory systems are more stable.

The team used a motorized barrel and Video Motion Capture (VMC) to challenge and measure the changes in motor control of the trunk that might have been learned on a horse. "Our VMC system is the same technology that is used to animate movies and video games," says Shurtleff. "It uses six cameras that 'see' small reflective markers on anatomical landmarks of the head, trunk, arms and hands. VMC enables very precise and objective measurement of the movement of the body and its parts." Subjects were tested before and after participating in twelve weeks of hippotherapy sessions and then again after another three months of not riding horses.

The team reports that so far the group of 11 children has shown a significant difference between pre and post hippotherapy testing. "On average they have reduced movement at the head and upper trunk by 1/3 of their pre-hippotherapy movement while being challenged by the reciprocating movement of the barrel," reports Shurtleff. "We can also show that their control of their heads has improved significantly, and that the range of motion of the head (highest and lowest head angles compared to the horizontal) and their movement variability (standard deviation of all angles through the timed test) decreased significantly. They also do not drop their heads as much forward, another significant result."

Eight of the children have also come back for their last test (three months after therapy treatments ended). "Preliminary results show that all these changes have persisted and remain statistically significant after the three month washout period after they stopped riding horses," Shurtleff continues. "We will be able to confirm this in the coming months, but the take home message is that we think we will be able to show with objective measures that hippotherapy improves motor control of the head and trunk and that the improvement sticks with them."

"We are very grateful to the Horses & Humans Research Foundation for funding this project and believe that the results will provide valuable objective evidence for the efficacy of hippotherapy as well as validating this measurement methodology for future studies," concludes Shurtleff.

Applications are now being accepted for the May 15, 2008 grant proposal deadline. For more information visit http://www.horsesandhumans.org or contact KC Henry, Executive Director by phone at (440) 543-8306 or by email at info@horsesandhumans.org

Horses & Humans Research Foundation

Horses & Humans Research Foundation, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, exists to facilitate universal understanding and appreciation of the significant influence of horses on humans. The primary goal is to support, promote and fund scientific research that explores the claimed, yet unsubstantiated benefits of equine assisted activities, leading to the discovery of the most effective methods and techniques for conducting thousands of existing and future programs. The secondary goal is to educate the public (including parents, donors, insurance companies and physicians) on research findings so that equine assisted activities programs become more accessible to those in need.

Website: http://www.horsesandhumans.org



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