Article published Thursday, January 22, 2009
Hippotherapy Works Wonders Among Area Youth
“Tell Dusty to ‘whoa,’” Tracey Lewis calls to 7-year-old Grace
Giannini, who is perched atop a gentle Appaloosa. Riding around on the 15-year-old horse, Grace isn’t
just fulfilling a typical girlhood dream. Instead, the Waterville
first-grader is one of several area children benefiting from the St. Vincent Mercy
Children’s Hospital hippotherapy program – the only one of its kind in
Hippotherapy, which comes from the Greek word “hippos,” meaning horse,
utilizes the movement of the horse, whose human-like gait pattern has been shown
to improve the gait of the riders who participate. The therapy also helps
with sensory processing, and visual, auditory and movement senses.
Hippotherapy is different from therapeutic riding,... Click
Here to Read the Article.
August 5, 2007
DARREN & DUSTY
Riding therapy program’s goal is to improve child’s
Darren gives Dusty a hug during a hippotherapy session.
( BLADE PHOTOS By ANDY MORRISON )
Darren Bedegarea’s doctors will tell you he has cerebral palsy.
His physical therapists will tell you the 9-year-old has limited
But all that really matters at the moment is something anyone can
tell you: Darren has the giggles.
Sitting on a mottled pony named Dusty, his staccato-like laughs
come out strong and short. He’s giddy for a little giddyup.
‘‘Walk on!’’ Darren commands. Always compliant, Dusty moves
ahead, slow and steady. It’s an apt parallel to Darren, whose
weekly riding sessions with Dusty were studied this spring in
the hope that they would lead to his own steady — and
significant — improvement in his ability to walk on.
The treatment is called hippotherapy —
‘‘hippo’’ is Greek for ‘‘horse’’ — and it’s
been in use for 20 years in this country, but without much
quantitative research to support it. Darren is one of six
children with neurological problems who participated in a
10-week study by two physical therapists from St. Vincent Mercy
Children’s Hospital examining the practice’s usefulness.
It started in March when Darren visited the motion analysis lab at
There, he was fitted with some reflective markers and electrodes
that allowed computers to turn his movements into 3-D animation.
Usually using a wheelchair, Darren walked back and forth across the
room with the help of a walker. He moved on tip-toes, determined
He holds out his arms to mimic physical therapist Tracey Lewis in
an exercise to improve balance.
( THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON )
The idea was that riding a horse would help
Darren’s muscle strength, balance, and coordination.
‘‘His muscles are spastic.
They’re tight,’’ explained Tracey Lewis, one of the physical
therapists leading the study that she hopes will educate medical
professionals and insurance companies.
‘‘The horse’s movement helps relax those muscles and then
again allows the body to experience more normal movement.’’
That is possible because a horse’s motion closely mimics that of
a human walking, so a rider’s pelvis is moved and muscles are
stretched just as they would if they were functioning naturally.
Darren Bedegarea, 9, is helped onto
Dusty by physical therapist Tracey Lewis during a
hippotherapy session at TimberWolff Stables.
( THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON )
But Darren wasn’t concerned with any of that
when he first got to sit on Dusty at TimberWolff Stables in
He was able to do little more than smile and laugh.
As the horse was led around in circles, Darren did simple exercises
while atop his steed — holding his arms out like an airplane,
throwing and catching a ball, touching his head — to challenge
To him it was just fun. Each of his three brothers had a sport, and
now he did too—horse riding.
All the while, his mother, Dawn, watched carefully from a nearby
bench, legs crossed, leaning forward to get a better view.
mom knew something was wrong with her youngest son when he was 8
‘‘He wasn’t crawling or sitting up like a normal child,’’
Before he had spinal surgery in 2003, it was
extremely difficult for him to walk. Now, each week he seems to
be more confident, more flexible.
‘‘It’s improved his overall strength and endurance. We’re
seeing great progress,’’ said Betsy Hyde, the other physical
therapist working with Darren. ‘‘His trunk control is much
better. He’s sitting up straighter and taller, and those are
all the basics that help you to walk better.’’
The aim, which they hope will be confirmed by a follow-up session
at UT, was that Darren would show lasting mechanical changes in
how he tried to walk.
This isn’t the end of the trail for young Darren, who rode weekly
for 30 minutes a session. He still walks with difficulty, and
his mom said she’ll continue to bring him to TimberWolff even
though his part in the study, funded by the St. Vincent Mercy
Medical Center Foundation, is over.
Good thing, because Darren had no desire to quit. At one point
during his final session, he leaned all the way forward,
embracing the pony in a deep, long hug. He held the embrace for
several seconds, reluctant to part.
Once he did, though, his mind already was racing forward,
especially when he saw some miniature horses and Shetland ponies
milling behind a nearby fence.
‘‘What are those?’’ Darren asked, still smiling. ‘‘Can
I ride them?’’
Contact Ryan Smith at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Reprinted with permission of The Blade of Toledo, Ohio, Aug.