Walking ability of teenagers with intellectual disabilities improved by riding – study

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A young rider in a therapy session.
A young rider in a therapy session. File image by State Farm

Improvements in the walking ability of children with intellectual disabilities were found after they took part in a therapeutic horse riding program.

Ok-Deuk Kang, a researcher with Jeju National University in South Korea, said normal development can be delayed in people with intellectual disabilities. This can limit learning capacity, mobility, and independent daily living.

In addition, people with intellectual disabilities may have problems with basic movements such as walking, running, and throwing due to inconsistent body movements and delayed motion coordination with sensory organs.

This limitation of exercise performance can lead to feelings of alienation and negative self-concept, as well as physical development.

Most previous studies of gait, including investigations of balance and muscle activities, have been conducted in children with cerebral palsy, Kang notes.

In a study reported in the Journal of Animal Science and Technology, Kang set out to determine if an eight-week therapeutic riding program improved the walking ability of students with intellectual disabilities.

Thirteen youngsters, with an average age of 14, took part, undertaking two 30-minute riding sessions each week, for a total of 16 rides.

A gait measurement analyzer was used to assess progress based on three measures — a turning test, a walking test, and a timed up-and-go test, in which the youngsters had to get up, walk 3m, and return to a chair.

Measurements were taken three times: before the horse-riding program began, after four weeks (eight rides), and at the end of the program.

Analysis of the results indicated improved walking ability after the program, with a significant increase in stride length noted.

The walk test revealed a significant effect on the duration of the forward gait cycle (walking speed increased), with significant improvements in both the left and right strides.

No significant improvement was found in performance in the timed up-and-go test after the program.

“An eight-week therapeutic riding program had positive results on gait,” reported Kang, who said further research in the area is warranted.

Discussing the findings, Kang said therapeutic riding has proven to be an effective exercise method for disabled populations.

“It promotes balance, symmetrical posture of the trunk and pelvis, and stability of the body via continuous stimulation of the vestibular and proprioceptive systems.”

Kang said the program had been expected to lead to significant improvements in the walking ability of the intellectually disabled students, because the contents of the program had been tailored specifically for this population.

The research was supported by the Korea Institute of Planning and Evaluation for Technology in Food, Agriculture, and Forestry.

Effects of therapeutic horse-riding program on the walking ability of students with intellectual disabilities
Ok-Deuk Kang
J Anim Sci Technol 2021; 63(2):440-452 DOI: https://doi.org/10.5187/jast.2021.e22

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here

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