Big grants for research into equine therapy

November 5, 2008

A youngster benefits from equine therapy.

Equine-assisted healing techniques for people diagnosed with autism and cerebral palsy will be scientifically tested in 2009 by two separate professional research teams, with $US100,000 in funding from the Horses and Humans Research Foundation (HHRF).

The foundation, which supports research that substantiates the healing impact of horses on humans, reported that applications for funding were received from several countries and represented 16 universities.

The stringent selection process resulted in awards to Good Hope Equestrian Training Center in Miami, Florida, and the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivieres, Canada.

"One in every 150 kids has autism," said Molly Sweeney, HHRF Board of Directors' president.

"This pervasive development disorder can have devastating impacts on a family. The economic impact per child is estimated at $US30,000 annually, and there are very few effective treatments. We are thrilled at the prospect of providing evidence of hope."

The Good Hope Equestrian Training Centre is a 8-hectare facility in southern Florida. Its research team will evaluate the effects of equine interaction on 7 to 12-year-old children diagnosed with autism. The research will focus on social function, attention and distractibility.

The University of Quebec at Trois-Rivieres is the first grant awarded internationally by the foundation.

The university, north-east of Montreal, will conduct research measuring the effect of a ten-week hippotherapy intervention on the control of head and trunk movement of children with cerebral palsy.

Eighteen subjects and their horses will be fitted with telemetry-recording accelerometers to document the speed and magnitude of the subjects' upper body and head displacement throughout the programme and eight weeks after.

The Horses and Humans Research Foundation was established in 2002 to fund research that will improve equine-assisted activities/therapies best practices and to increase awareness of their benefits.

There are nearly 750 such programmess in the United States affiliated with the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association and over 40,000 participants, which represent only a portion of the programmes operating nationally and internationally.

The foundation's first award in 2006 went to the Washington University Programme in Occupational Therapy. During a year-long study, the team measured stability changes in children with cerebral palsy after 12 weeks of therapeutic horseback riding.

The study provided strong evidence that hippotherapy, the use of rhythmic movements of a horse to effect therapeutic gains, substantially improves both head and trunk stability and upper extremity function in children with spastic diplegia cerebral palsy.

The results also dramatically displayed that students maintained the improvements after their sessions ended.

Horses and Humans Research Foundation grant awards are made possible by the generous contributions of foundations, individuals, businesses and therapeutic riding programmes nationwide. An anonymous $500,000 challenge grant matches every dollar contributed to the organisation.