How Can Horses Help You Recover From a Stroke?
Experts have discovered that riding can help survivors of strokes to recover. We now know that interacting with animals can help people suffering from a variety of conditions. Most therapies involving animals have been designed to address mental health issues as opposed to physical ones. But riding involves physical activity and interaction with an animal and so potentially offers the best of both worlds.
Improvements for Patients
Stroke patients undertaking riding lessons twice per week for 12 weeks have shown improvements in their balance, gait, grip strength and cognition. 56% of patients which took part in a recent study experienced improvements of up to 10%. A control group of patients who did not ride showed slight declines in their abilities.
The researchers who conducted the study think that horse riding is so successful in helping the patients because the rocking motion of the horse’s back creates a sensory experience that closely resembles normal human gait. Therefore it reminds patients of the sensation of walking and balancing.
Comparisons with Music Therapy
Experts in Sweden and Australia conducted the study. It also discovered that a form of therapy in which patients beat their hands and feet to music is beneficial. Although only to about half the extent of the horse riding lessons.
The leader of the study was Professor Michael Nilsson of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. He has said: ‘Significant improvements are still possible, even years after a stroke, using motivating, comprehensive therapies provided in stimulating physical and social surroundings to increase brain activity and recovery.’
The team studied 123 Swedish men and women, aged 50 to 75, who had suffered strokes between 10 months and five years before the research began. As 150,000 people suffer a stroke every year in Britain alone, the findings have huge implications. Half of those who have strokes are left with lasting disabilities. So any means of improving their conditions would be very welcome. Access to riding lessons could revolutionise stroke treatment.
Combining Therapy with Enjoyment
Riding therapy targets a range of functions and so addresses a variety of issues simultaneously whilst being an enjoyable activity. Participants who engage in enjoyable therapies are more likely to experience improvements, are more likely to perceive that they have improved and are more likely to stick with their therapy.
This study was small-scale and there is certainly more for us to be learn about the therapeutic benefits of riding. Horse riding as a therarpy could help many more conditions. Those who ride regularly will already know all about the fun factor, the joy of interacting with horses and .