Animal therapy: how caring for horses improves cerebral palsy

It is no secret that animal therapy is a powerful tool for many people worldwide. Be it supporting physical, learning, sensory disabilities, or mental health conditions, animal therapy is a powerful tool.

Such is its strength, working with animals has helped to improve the symptoms of cerebral palsy for one young girl.

Movement

Sophie is a lively young girl who happens to have spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy and epilepsy.

Her conditions mean she can experience stiff, tight muscles, but it was a connection with her pony that led Sophie and her family to try a unique treatment, which helped ease her symptoms.

Gina, Sophie’s mother, explains:  “The part of Sophie’s brain responsible for movement doesn’t send the correct message. This makes her muscles work incorrectly and as a consequence, they become tight and stiff when she tries to use them.

“Ultimately Sophie’s bones may not grow properly, so we regularly undertake a full daily programme of physiotherapy and strengthening exercises, to keep them as loose as possible.

“All the exercises are incorporated into her daily activities. She also uses an ijoy, which is a machine that simulates horse riding and a wobble board.”

Similarly, when Sophie tries to walk, the muscles in her inner thighs become too tight and she crosses her legs, so her parents are working to try to get this muscle to relax.

Re-training

In a bid to continually encourage Sophie’s development, and one day improve her mobility, the family is working to re-train her muscles. One of the ways of doing this is utilising Sophie’s love of animals.

Sophie has her own pony and together they attend private personal training (PT) lessons with a PT specifically trained to support Sophie and people with cerebral palsy.

An extremely bright, bubbly little girl, Sophie is also improving her communication and literacy skills through the training.

Connection

Equine behaviourist, Dawn Rothwell had been helping Sophie’s pony by using a microcurrent device called The Alpha-Stim, and because she knew it was also designed for humans, she brought along a special device for Sophie to try.

The Alpha-Stim is a portable cranial electrotherapy stimulation device that transmits tiny imperceptible microcurrents via ear-clips.

Gina explains: “Sophie started using the device back in April twice a day. It didn’t seem to be having much effect so we increased the time to one hour in both morning and evening. Then we started to notice a difference.

When Sophie tried to sit on her ijoy or pony, her inner thighs used to be very tight, but the Alpha-Stim had reduced this tightness by a good 35 to 40 per cent, which made it much easier for her to sit comfortably and assist her.

“Sophie has to do special arm exercises because her arm muscles are usually too tight, but they felt a lot looser too after using the Alpha-Stim,” continues Gina.

“I believe that the Alpha-Stim is allowing the very tight muscles to relax, allowing the correct muscles to strengthen, so hopefully, over time, the other muscles will catch up.”

With support from the Alpha-Stim and animal therapy, Sophie is just one person reaping the benefits and rewards of additional physiotherapy and love from her pony.

The Alpha-Stim AID retails for £549 or is available on a buy-to-rent scheme from £51 a month. For more information please visit www.alpha-stim.co.uk or call 01487 208041