Shenandoah University Research
Research on Equine Assisted Therapies is continually growing causing a surge in the need for Hippotherapy facilities and therapeutic centers capable of conducting equine assisted activities. By conducting on-site research in conjunction with Shenandoah University, Ride-On Ranch is on the forefront of this emerging trend. Research is conducted each year by graduate level Occupational Therapy students focusing on various effects hippotherapy has on a variety of symptoms.
Research Question: Does engagement in hippotherapy improve postural control and handwriting legibility in children with ASD?
Research Description: The Central Nervous System (CNS) of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder can become disorganized, which can affect their social, emotional, communication, and language functions. Hippotherapy can help a client’s CNS become more organized through its repetitive and rhythmic nature, increasing the effectiveness of these functions.
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) exhibit difficulty with handwriting legibility. According to Scordella et. al (2015), 37% of elementary school-aged children struggle with handwriting legibility. Studies have shown that elementary school teachers attribute poor handwriting to poor postural control. Postural control not only affects handwriting, but it impacts all aspects of occupation. Many intervention approaches exist to assist in improving postural control. Hippotherapy is one intervention for improving postural control. While literature shows a link between involvement in hippotherapy and increased postural control in the population of children with Cerebral Palsy (Zadnikar & Kastrin, 2011), there is no research on hippotherapy as an intervention for postural control in children with ASD.
In total 10 subjects will be chosen for this study once completed application and inclusion eligibility have been determined. Treatment sessions will consist of one to three subjects per session. Each session will be 45 minutes in length but may vary based on the introduction of study, cooperation of horse and client, testing duration, and transfers for up to four separate sessions per client. The treatment sessions will include up to three riders per 45 minute intervals. The subject’s times will be staggered every 15 minutes so that proper instruction of testing items may be provided from researchers. For example, subject 1 will start at 1:00 pm and end at 1:45pm, subsequently another subject will begin at 1:15 pm and end at 2:00 pm, then another subject will start at 1:30 pm and end at 2:15 pm and so on until all 10 subjects have been tested.
Certified Therapeutic Riding instructors or certified volunteers will aid in transferring the client on and off of the horse. If the subject at any time feels uncomfortable or chooses not to participate they can stop at any time, it is their responsibility to notify the volunteers or instructor that they would like to stop and the instructor or volunteer will transfer the subject off of the horse.
Quantitative data will be collected before and after individual treatment sessions with each subject via a pre and post-test using both standardized and nonstandardized assessments such as the Minnesota Handwriting Assessment (MHA) and the Nintendo Wii™
Spotlight on 2013 Research
2013 – The Effects of Hippotherapy on Motor Performance Skills of Special Olympic Athletes
In the spring of 2013, Shenandoah University students conducted a research project at Ride-On Ranch evaluating the effects of hippotherapy as an occupational therapy modality on the motor performance skills of Special Olympics athletes. Using the Berg Balance Skills, an observation checklist, and other forms of assessments, the therapy students were able to see improvement in the riders after 45-minute hippotherapy sessions. Riders displayed:
- Increases in verbal and social participation
- Increases in motor skills
- Expressions of positive emotion
Findings were presented at the 16th Annual International Congress of the World Federation of Occupational Therapist in Yokohama Japan, June 2014.
Shenandoah students observe and evaluate a research participants.