Hippotherapy is defined as “therapy using the movement of the horse,” which is the primary purpose of the Ironstone Therapy program. For a person straddling a walking horse, the movement of the horse provides the sensation of walking and moving forward through space, and the rider needs to respond to these movements. This means that a person who cannot walk or who has difficulty walking can experience the sensation of walking and respond to those movements simply by riding a horse.
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.
The movement of the horse engages muscles
that assist with balance, coordination and functional mobility.
[Therapists can focus on] specific muscle groups
using various positions on the horse including
backward sitting, kneeling and quadruped [on all fours].
The biggest benefit of equine-assisted therapy
is the motivation that the horse provides to the patient.
The children are willing to challenge themselves
in ways that they may not in a home or clinical setting,
and they are proud of the progress that they make.
- Brigid Garry,
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.