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CSP Scotland conference: Hippotherapy partnership proves cost-effective solution

8 December 2014 - 4:21pm

A partnership approach to physiotherapy on horseback is paying off for children in Lothian.


Community paediatric physiotherapist Heather Falconer: 'hippotherapy is a highly effective form of physiotherapy' - photo: Simon Saffery of Sports Portraits

The CSP Scotland conference, Advancing practice, enhancing healthcare, held in Dunfermline, Fife, last week, heard that hippotherapy was cost-effective and had good outcomes for children and parents.

Community paediatric physiotherapist Heather Falconer said the service was only possible because of the partnership with Muirfield Riding Therapy, a member of the Riding for the Disabled Association. She encouraged other physiotherapists to explore partnerships that might not otherwise be possible within the NHS.

‘Hippotherapy is a highly effective form of physiotherapy, but it is costly and complex to deliver,’ she said.

‘You need horses, a large team for each rider – two sidewalkers and a leader as well as a physio – and a purpose-built arena, none of which we have in the NHS. But there’s a huge body of evidence for the effectiveness of hippotherapy; in fact there’s more evidence for hippotherapy than for hydrotherapy.’

The Lothian service, which followed a successful pilot, involves one weekly therapy ride for up to six children (mostly with neurological disabilities or developmental delay). This is followed by one-to-one sessions for more complex patients, and more intensive blocks during school holidays.

‘It’s “boot camp”, not riding lessons,’ she said, explaining that the children complete targeted exercises and activities while on horseback.

The pilot study showed that children and their parents loved it, that it led to significant improvements in core stability, walking pattern and gross motor skills, and that it cost NHS Lothian less than half the price of one-to-one physio. ‘It meant that seven children were seen in the time normally taken for two to three – with better outcomes,’ Ms Falconer said.

One key to successful partnership is ensuring that both sides benefit, she said. NHS Lothian benefits from Muirfield Riding Therapy because it arranges the horses, venue and appropriately trained and checked volunteers. Muirfield Riding Therapy benefits because it gains credibility, physiotherapy input and training, and volunteer satisfaction, because the volunteers can see evidence of the improvements they are making to children’s lives.

Muirfield Riding Therapy has also used the evidence of benefit to make successful applications for grants to organisations including Children in Need.

‘I believe this partnership has been really successful for the NHS and for Muirfield Riding Therapy – and, of course, for the children taking part,’ she said.

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