Purpose: To evaluate the literature on the efficacy of equine assisted activities and therapies (EAAT) on gross motor outcomes representing the ICF component of body functions and activity in children with cerebral palsy (CP).
Methods: We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and observational studies of hippotherapy (HPOT) and therapeutic horseback riding (TR) for children with spastic CP. Gross motor outcomes, assessed via muscle activity and muscle tone, gait, posture and Gross Motor Function Measures (GMFM) were evaluated.
Results: Five TR studies and nine HPOT studies were included. Our meta-analysis indicated that short-term HPOT (total riding time 8-10 min) significantly reduced asymmetrical activity of the hip adductor muscles. HPOT could improve postural control in children with spastic CP, GMFCS level < 5. However, the evidence did not show a statistically significant effect on GMFM after long-term HPOT or TR (total riding time, 8-22 h) in children with spastic CP.
Conclusions: This systematic review found insufficient evidence to support the claim that long-term TR or HPOT provide a significant benefit to children with spastic CP. We found no statistically significant evidence of either therapeutic effect or maintenance effects on the gross motor activity status in CP children.