Objectives: To determine if hippotherapy (therapy using a horse) improves head/trunk stability and upper extremity (UE) reaching/targeting in children with spastic diplegia cerebral palsy (SDCP).
Design: Pre-postoperative follow-up with a 12-week intervention and 12-week washout period after intervention.
Setting: A human performance laboratory with 6 camera video motion capture systems for testing.
Participants: Eleven children (age 5-13y, average 8y) with SDCP, 8 children (age 5-13y, average 8y) without disabilities.
Intervention: Hippotherapy intervention performed at 3 therapeutic horseback riding centers.
Main outcome measures: Video motion capture using surface markers collecting data at 60 Hz, a mechanical barrel to challenge trunk and head stability, and functional reach/targeting test on static surface.
Results: Significant changes with large effect sizes in head/trunk stability and reaching/targeting, elapsed time, and efficiency (reach/path ratio) after 12 weeks of hippotherapy intervention. Changes were retained after a 12-week washout period.
Conclusions: Hippotherapy improves trunk/head stability and UE reaching/targeting. These skills form the foundation for many functional tasks. Changes are maintained after the intervention ceases providing a skill foundation for functional tasks that may also enhance occupational performance and participation.