Thursday, April 22, 2010

Horses help heal with hippotherapy

By Leah Poulton, Communications & Marketing Office

Christina Murdocco knows that most people don’t know what hippotherapy is. And she hopes to help change that.

Less about hippos and more about horses, hippotherapy is a rehabilitation therapy most often used for people with disabilities like Autism, Cerebral Palsy and Down syndrome. It works as speech, occupational and physical therapy. The client sits passively on a horse with someone walking beside him or her, offering support, and someone else leading the horse.


Murdocco, a Bachelor of Arts in Child and Youth Care student, says the therapy provides both physical benefits (balance, movement in the joints and strengthening of the limbs) and psychological benefits (confidence, patience, self-esteem).

During the research for her project for Student Research Days, she noticed that although there was a lot of literature about the benefits of hippotherapy, there wasn’t much written about the drawbacks. She decided to go straight to the source and ask people who had participated in hippotherapy what they thought the advantages and disadvantages were.

While some respondents mentioned cost and the dangers of horseback riding, the result overall was that the positives far outweigh the negatives. In fact, she actually discovered a new benefit that she hadn’t previously read about in her research.

“I was surprised that 90 per cent of people said there was a sensory benefit to the therapy, which was huge because that wasn’t in any of the literature,” she says.

“Things like touching the horse and smelling things around the barn, and the sounds. I think it might be a new category to the research.”

Murdocco, a former competitive horseback rider, plans to explore this topic more extensively in the future as part of her Master’s Degree.

Student Research Days is an annual event that showcases the research of Douglas College students. This year's event, held on March 30-31, 2010, featured nearly 200 students from across all College Faculties presenting over 100 research project posters on a diverse range of topics. The event continues to raise the profile and enthusiasm for student research at the College.

Next year's student research days will be held on March 28, 2011 at David Lam Campus and March 29, 2011 at New Westminster Campus. Look for registration forms and a call for exhibitors in the Fall, check the Student Research Days page for more information.

With photos and contributions from Trista Orchard