Overview of Cerebral Palsy Cerebral (brain) Palsy (physical disorder) refers to damage to the brain that results in physical disabilities. It’s not a problem with the body itself, rather it’s a the brain’s inability to adequately control the body. There are a variety of types and severities of cerebral palsy.
Spastic (difficult or stiff movement, this is what Tomas has)
Ataxic (loss of depth perception and balance)
Athetoid/Dyskinetic (uncontrolled or involuntary movements)
Mixed (a mix of two or more of the above)
The damage is typically inflicted by an injury during the birth process, but can occur later from damage to the brain. Symptoms usually appear within a child’s first few years and generally do not worsen over time. Some people with cerebral palsy are wheelchair-bound, some walk with assistance, and some are able to move on their own. Life expectancy depends on severity of the condition as well as nutrition and lifestyle.
Horses As Therapy As therapeutic riding grows, using horses as therapy for both the mind and body is becoming more widespread across the globe. Riding horses is so effective for people with cerebral palsy because it targets several key weaknesses associated with the disorder. It’s benefits include: improving core strength stimulating circulation and muscles in the legs achieving balance improving posture improving muscle strength When a rider sits on a horse, the movement of the horse’s sides between the legs simulates the same movements as walking. This increases blood flow and stimulates the muscles. In order to follow the movement of the horse, riders must develop good balance and core strength. Much of staying on and moving with a horse comes from your trunk. It takes more than just the reins to turn a horse; riders use their eyes and heads, and twist the body side to side to help direct the horse. You lean slightly forward to go faster and sit up tall and deep to slow down. All of these exercises help to improve motor skills and core strength. And as riders progress, depending on their physical ability, they can improve coordination skills as well as balance, core, and leg strength.
Riding horses is also a great outlet for physical activity, which is so important for the health of people with cerebral palsy but can be difficult to come by. Most importantly, kids and adults with cerebral palsy learn to connect with horses, building a trusting relationship that is fun, rewarding, and life-changing. Horses are incredibly compassionate creatures. They are attuned to their riders slightest movement and respond accordingly, fostering team work and a sense of accomplishment with their rider.