Disabled riding centre launches horse appeal to expand ‘hippotherapy’

A centre for disabled riders in Bristol has introduced a new “hippotherapy” programme — and launched an appeal for more therapy horses to expand the beneficial concept.

Avon Riding Centre in Henbury has been working with specialist paediatric physiotherapist Jo McMeechan to develop the hippotherapy, a form of physiotherapy to help disabled children improve their physical and mental wellbeing.

The centre is one of only a few Riding for the Disabled Association centres in the UK offering hippotherapy, while Jo is one of 30 trained hippotherapists in the country.

“The process is incredibly rewarding,” said Jo. “Not just for the children and their families but also for myself as a physiotherapist and the staff involved. We have been privileged enough to watch exciting developments in the children we have worked with so far.”

The concept involves the movement of the horse creating a response in the rider’s body similar to walking, as it stimulates movement in the pelvis. The session is not a riding lesson but physical therapy, with the therapist adjusting the horse’s activity to facilitate the movement of the rider. Combining a mixture of fun and some patient horses, the riders’ physical challenges can be disguised for the session — making it something children look forward to rather than endure.

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Angela Hodge, whose daughter attends the hippotherapy, added: “We have found the therapy to be extremely beneficial to Ezzy’s recovery and have noticed great improvement with her balance, core strength, confidence and overall ability.”

With about 90 children on the waiting list for hippotherapy, the centre needs more horses to offer the therapy to more people. It has launched an appeal called “Horses Helping Humans” and hopes to raise £25,000 in order to buy more therapy horses.

To donate, visit the centre’s JustGiving page.

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