Insurance companies and other funders do not usually pay for therapies such as those provided by Xenophon. While therapeutic riding and hippotherapy have been around for a significant period of time, formal research projects documenting the functional benefits provided by these therapies have been slow in happening. Thankfully, that is changing and scientific research in this industry is on the rise. However, challenges still exist. Most assessment tools implemented in riding studies are based on clinical scales that are subject to observer bias and look at too broad an array of deficits. Xenophon’s physical therapist, Tineke Jacobsen, along with Dr. Mary Jones, a pediatrician from UCSF Benioff’s Children’s Hospital Oakland, and Xenophon volunteer, Diane Morabito, embarked on a research project designed to measure the effect of hippotherapy on postural control in a child with neuromuscular dysfunction as a result of Rett Syndrome. Their goal was to explore clinical and objective measures that might show defined progress.
The study was conducted in two parts, the first in the fall of 2013, with the second trial being run in June of 2014. It looked specifically at postural control. Tineke designed a hippotherapy protocol with a clearly designed scale for rating the participants responses. Measurements were taken using an iSway device, which is essentially a signal processor that measures a lot of variables that characterize sway. In addition to measurements taken by the iSway device, measurements were taken pre-trial, mid-trial and end-trial at the Children’s Hospital’s Motion Analysis Lab in Walnut Creek. All three measures showed a trend toward improvement.
This research project has now received national attention. Dr. Mary Jones presented the findings at the national 2016 Rett Syndrome Symposium in Chicago on June 22, 2016, with over 300 medical professionals in attendance. The findings were well received. While this study was done using only one child, the findings offer exciting potential for further studies using larger subject groups as well as demonstrating that objective data collection is possible in the hippotherapy field. Xenophon is proud to be playing a role in providing data that clearly defines the benefits of our valuable therapies.