Research into the part horses can play in the therapy of children with physical disabilities has won the Eqvalan Duo Equine Thesis of the Year 2012 award.

Student Sarah Rainford’s paper found that horses with certain gaits have the greatest effect on specific disabilities — so horses and riders should be paired for the most therapeutic benefit.

Sarah from Reaseheath College in Cheshire, submitted her thesis “Can a 30-minute hippotherapy session significantly increase the range of motion of four joints in five physically disabled children over an eight-week period?”

The Eqvalan Duo Equine Thesis of the Year Award is now in its 14th year and is organised by the Royal Agricultural Society of England.

Ed Bracher, chief executive of the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) said: “I am delighted that Sarah has proven the value of RDA hippotherapy in improving range of motion.

“We are aware of the benefits that riding brings in this respect, but always need more research to quantifiably prove the case. I hope that this will increase the understanding of the benefits and our ability to provide this service.”

Sarah said: “I am extremely proud and honoured to be chosen as the winner. I hope that the work I have done will go towards validating the RDA’s work and raise awareness of the benefits of hippotherapy.

“I hope to be able to use my knowledge for further study and as a potential career in equine facilitated learning and using horses as a therapy tool.”

Runner-up was Rosie Foster from Writtle College with her thesis “Positive versus negative reinforcement: the effects of target training on measurable equine fearfulness towards a novel stimulus”.

And the other finalists were Abigail Erian from the Royal Agricultural College, Roisin Griffin from the University of Limerick and Petra Gashi from Anglian Ruskin University.