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  • Writer's picturePaullett Golden

Hippotherapy: Physical & Mental Rehabilitation

Publication Date: Oct 1, 2019

Did you know that horses have been used for physical therapy, mental health, and rehabilitation?

Painting of man with horse

In The Colonel and The Enchantress, our hero, Colonel Duncan Starrett, struggles with a war injury, or more precisely, with the complications of a injury caused by the surgery rather than the original injury. The post-surgery injury is discussed in another research section, but for now, I'd like to look at one of the therapies that is instrumental to his recovery. This came about not as an original plot point, rather as the result of falling into the rabbit hole of research.

Our hero is a Light Dragoon, aka cavalry. He has a deep love for riding horses that complicates his recovery since he can't ride his horse post-injury. Originally, my plan was for him to risk all by his determination to get back on a horse. My concern was if this would be too far fetched to have someone with a spinal injury riding a horse. Research led me down quite a fascinating path!

I discovered what's called hippotherapy. Not only would our hero be able to ride a horse, but the horse would aid in his recovery. This was a plot point I hadn't expected, and so I've been reworking the middle of the book to fit the new arc. Hippotherapy is the use of horseback riding for physical (and mental) rehabilitation and therapy. Not only does this mean it's possible for our hero to ride a horse, but it is imperative that he does so.

Cartoon of a horse therapist

From the interviews and stories I've read regarding hippotherapy, it would seem this is quite the miracle therapy and able to treat a wide range of disabilities: spinal cord injury, paraplegia, quadriplegia, autism, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, paraparesis, head injury, stroke, psychological and behavioral disorders, and more. Hippotherapy is different from equine therapy and therapeutic riding in that the focus is on the horse's movements to strengthen muscles, develop core strength, increase balance, improve coordination, and more.

There are hipptherapy associations and centers worldwide, as well as an array of success stories ranging from minor rehabilitation to miracle recovery. This story shows one young lady's recovery from paralysis. After only five months of hippotherapy, she was able to move her legs. This article is the same young lady but her tale told from another source and a different angle.

To learn a bit more about how a horse's gait can work miracles in rehabilitation, check out this article for a technical discussion and this article for an informal discussion.

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