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Helping Through Hippotherapy

Students who complete DPT 603 Diagnosis and Intervention: Neurological Dysfunction and DPT 712 Differential Diagnosis and Advanced Intervention Skills perform 20 hours of community service in a variety of recreational programs for people with disabilities. They finish by writing a reflective paper describing the types of conditions people had and their functional limitations.  They discuss the benefits and risks of the particular activity and the role physical therapy can play in non-medical physical activity in regard to quality of life and participation in society.  They are also asked to give thought to whether they enjoyed the activity and if they felt comfortable or uncomfortable participating in it, and, to imagine what they might do differently if they were in charge of the activity.

According to Mary Gannotti, associate professor of physical therapy, students engage in a wide range of activities.  They may guide children with cerebral palsy down a ski slope, coach the swim team at the Hospital for Special Care, or row along the Connecticut River working with victims of stroke.  This semester, one of her students, Michelle Tinnes, took a look at the work being done through hippotherapy to help children with disabilities.

Michelle volunteered at the Somerset Hills Handicapped Riding Center (SHHRC) in Oldwick, New Jersey working with a physical therapist who treated patients in thirty-minute sessions of hippotherapy. She saw eight patients during her two visits and two of those eight she saw twice.  All eight patients were diagnosed with cerebral palsy but had different degrees of functional limitations. "I got to learn a lot from the different patients," says Michelle. "I also got to work with kids, feel tone, see whole new treatments, work hands on with prepping horses and guarding patients, and play games with the patients during their treatments. Hippotherapy definitely makes a positive impact in a child’s quality of life, participation, functional limitations, and impairments. It was amazing to see the parents' and other caregivers' faces when the patient (child) did something new. Even the therapist and volunteers were excited about it.  It was nice to see how much everyone cared about the child."

Pictured (l-r) Michelle Tinnes, patient, Ruth Nortje, PT, Jane Hains, volunteer

Michelle Tinnes, patient, Ruth Nortje, PT, Jane Hains, volunteer