Repetitive smooth movements [by the horse] reduce muscle tone in the child with cerebral palsy, and the fast erratic movements of a trot promotes sensory processing so that the rider with autism is more engaged. Occupational and physical therapists (and assistants) focus on developing postural control, balance and motor planning skills that can be generalized into the client’s daily life – such as improving sitting endurance, ascending and descending bus steps or dressing independently.
Occupational therapists are especially trained to understand how sensory stimulation impacts learning and developing sensory motor skills. The sensory qualities of a horse and farm, the emotional bond between horse and rider and ‘just right’ challenges all contribute to therapeutic success!”
— Barbara Smith,
Author, The Recycling Occupational Therapist
Ironstone’s therapists use this unique motion to help clients improve balance and coordination, increase muscle tone, and make gains in strength and stamina – all of which are difficult to achieve in the classroom or clinic. For the client therapy is effective and fun.
“Hippotherapy is a tool used by licensed occupational and physical therapy practitioners (and speech and language pathologists) as they utilize the horse’s movement to promote neurobiological changes that in turn promote functional skills,” says Barbara Smith, MS, OTR/L. “For example, repetitive smooth movements reduce muscle tone in the child with cerebral palsy and the fast erratic movements of a trot promotes sensory processing so that the rider with autism is more engaged.
“Occupational and physical therapists (and assistants) focus on developing postural control, balance and motor planning skills that can be generalized into the client’s daily life – such as improving sitting endurance, ascending and descending bus steps or dressing independently,” she says.
Referral, documentation and progression
Ninety percent of Ironstone Therapy’s clients are children who are referred by physicians, Early Intervention programs, public schools and word of mouth. Following referral, a therapy evaluation is conducted and a plan of care determined. Progress is carefully monitored, documented and sent to the referring physician or agency monthly. If a child achieves predetermined goals, recommendations are made for more extensive therapy or discharge, in which case the decision can be made for the client to continue riding horses as a recreational therapy in the Challenge Unlimited program.
Ironstone Therapy contracts with nine Early Intervention programs throughout the Merrimack Valley, Greater Boston and the North Shore of Massachusetts. Early Intervention is organized by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) and provides a variety of services for children from birth to 3 years of age who are diagnosed with disability. Parents of young children have advocated that hippotherapy be provided by Early Intervention and this was approved by DPH in 2001. Today children are referred to Ironstone Therapy as young as nine months of age so they can get the beneficial movement of the horse at this critical stage of development. Early intervention services are funded through health insurance and DPH support. For more information about Early Intervention on the www.mass.gov website, click here.
About Ironstone Therapy
A nonprofit affiliate of Challenge Unlimited, Ironstone Therapy employs licensed professional physical and occupational therapists and speech/language pathologists who provide therapeutic intervention. Ironstone Therapy works under a management agreement for the use of Challenge Unlimited’s horses, facility and staff expertise. The administrative and professional staffs of both organizations work together to best address the needs of each individual.