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Ironstone Farm’s blog is meant to provide people with information and personal accounts about what is happening both at Ironstone Farm and in the equine-assisted therapy field.

We seek to provide a variety of posts.

Through our “Research in our field” section, we aim to serve as a resource for medical professionals, clients and families seeking more information about available therapies involving a horse. Under that heading, readers will find hippotherapy or therapeutic riding-related news, information and research summaries.

 

SUBJECT AREA: RESEARCH IN OUR FIELD

More research needed on benefits of equine therapy for war veterans

Posted by James Gleason, MS, PT
In recent months, Ironstone Farm has been privileged to have the opportunity to work with veterans of our armed forces and to learn of the ways in which our work at Challenge Unlimited at Ironstone Farm may be helpful to veterans.

There is not much research or scientific literature on this subject; in fact a recent search of PUBMED, the scientific literature database, using the words “War, Veterans, Horses” resulted in one article being identified. This speaks to the need for research in this field. Curiously, the history of using horses in therapy dates back to Greek and Roman times as a method to provide rehabilitation and mobility to persons injured in battle.

Asselin G, Penning JH, Ramanujam S, Neri R, Ward C.(2012) Therapeutic horse back riding of a spinal cord injured veteran: a case study. Rehabil Nurs. Nov-Dec;37(6):270-6. doi: 10.1002/rnj.027.

In this report, Asselin et. al (2012) provide a brief but fairly comprehensive history and description of the use of horses in rehabilitation specifically with veterans who have injuries and with persons with spinal cord injuries. Spinal cord injuries (SCI) scan cause weakness and paralysis (inability to move or contract muscles) as well as sensory deficits in the parts of the body below the level of the actual injury to the spinal cord. As a result many people with SCI may be unaware of pain or touch in their legs or have difficulty standing and walking. This report also provides a nice description of hippotherapy (HT), therapeutic riding (TR) and equine facilitated psychotherapy (EFP). All three therapies engage the use of horses to target specific needs of the patient, in this case a veteran with a spinal cord injury.

It is interesting to note that much of the rationale used in this article to support the use of equine assisted therapies is quite similar to why Challenge Unlimited uses hippotherapy and therapeutic riding for children with a range of developmental conditions such as cerebral palsy and autism, and adults with a range of other physical and sensory needs including multiple sclerosis, alzheimer’s disease or even cancer.

The US and Canadian government has established programs to support veterans through the use of horseback riding therapies.
Additional information may be found at:
http://www.va.gov/health/NewsFeatures/20110106a.asp
and
http://www.employabilities.ab.ca/2013/05/study-animal-therapy-for-veterans/

Of primary concern, of course is what does the rider, in this case a veteran with spinal cord injury, say about the importance of this therapy. He reports learning to use muscles (in this case the adductor muscles of his legs) to squeeze his thighs to signal to the horse when to move. He also reports increased postural control and that he was motivated to do exercises at home to improve flexibility and strength so that he could be a better rider. His self-esteem improved and he talked to large audiences about his experience and he is working towards competing in the paraolympics.

While this report provides a very nice description of the therapy and the outcomes for one participant or subject it is important to keep in mind that evidence-based practices requires that we evaluate the impact on large numbers of participants with much more rigorous attention to research methods and evaluation. The program that this individual participated in is based in Virginia and was established as part of the Horses for Heroes program at the Michael E. DeBakey Veteran Affairs Medical Center.

In our own way, Challenge Unlimited is proud to offer veterans in the Greater Boston area a similar opportunity. We thank all veterans for your service to our country.

The author, James “Jim” Gleason, is associate director of the University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center and an instructor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

More blog posts coming soon!