Physical therapy treatments incorporating equine movement: a pilot study exploring interactions between children with cerebral palsy and the horse Academic Article uri icon


  • Background

    Physical therapy treatments incorporating equine movement are recognized as an effective tool to treat functional mobility and balance in children with cerebral palsy (CP). To date, only a few studies examined kinematic outputs of the horses and children when mounted. In this pilot study, to better understand the effectiveness of this type of treatment, we examined the interaction between the horses and children with CP during physical therapy sessions where equine movement was utilized.


    Four children with CP participated in eight physical therapy sessions incorporating hippotherapy as a treatment intervention. Functional mobility was assessed using the Timed Up Go or the 10 m Walk Test. Inertial measurement unit sensors, attached to children and horses, recorded movements and tracked acceleration, angular velocity, and body orientation. Correlation between vertical accelerations of children and horses were analyzed. In addition, peak frequencies of vertical accelerations of children and horses were compared.


    Functional tests modestly improved over time. The children's movements, (quantified in frequency and temporal domains) increasingly synchronized to the vertical movement of the horse's walk, demonstrated by reduced frequency errors and increased correlation.


    The findings suggest that as the sessions progressed, the participants appeared to become more familiar with the horse's movement. Since the horse's gait at a walk mimics the human gait this type of treatment may provide individuals with CP, who have abnormal gait patterns, an opportunity for their neuromuscular system to experience a typical gait pattern. The horse's movement at the walk are consistent, cyclical, rhythmical, reciprocal and multi-dimensional, all of which can facilitate motor learning. The increased synchronization between horse and the mounted participant suggests that physical therapy utilizing equine movement is a viable treatment tool to enhance functional mobility. This study may provide a useful baseline for future work. Trial registrationTexas A&M University Institutional Review Board. IRB2018-0064. Registered 8 March 2018. Link: and

author list (cited authors)

  • Lightsey, P., Lee, Y., Krenek, N., & Hur, P.

complete list of authors

  • Lightsey, Priscilla||Lee, Yonghee||Krenek, Nancy||Hur, Pilwon

publication date

  • January 1, 2021 11:11 AM