The aim of this study was to assess the effects of a hippotherapy program on static balance and strength in adolescents with intellectual disability (ID). Nineteen adolescents with moderate ID were assigned either an experimental group (n = 10) or a control group (n = 9). The experimental group attended a 10-week hippotherapy program. To assess static balance, three tasks of increasing difficulty (Double-Leg Stance with opened or closed eyes, and One-Leg Stance with opened eyes) were performed while standing on an EPS pressure platform (Loran Engineering S.r.I., Bologna, Italy). The strength measurements consisted of three maximal isometric half-squats from the seating position (knee joint at 908). The hippotherapy intervention program resulted in significant improvements in strength parameters, and on the more complex balance task (i.e. standing on one leg). In conclusion, this study provides evidence that hippotherapy can be used as an effective intervention for improving balance and strength in individuals with ID, and could thus influence functional activities and quality of life.
Individuals with ID often experience balance and strength problems and these problems are reflected in their reduced motor capacity. Therefore, it is essential to establish whether strength and balance capacities in persons with ID can be improved by proper training.
The results of the present study showed a significant improvement in the participants’ ability to balance on one leg after the hippotherapy intervention. Performance improvements in this demanding balance task may be due to alterations in the complex sensory motor stimulation offered by the horse’s movement.
Muscle strength has been considered as an essential component of overall health and has been associated with improved ability to perform daily activities in individuals with ID. Thus, a hippotherapy intervention can constitute an appropriate alternative exercise mode.
In conclusion, the present study showed improvements in strength and balance tasks by adolescents with ID who participated in the 10-week hippotherapy intervention program. This provides evidence that properly selected exercises can improve specific skills in individuals with ID. Hippotherapy can be an effective intervention for improving functional outcomes and can be recommended as an alternative mode of therapy for improving balance and strength. It also supports the idea that individuals with ID require intervention programs and should be encouraged to be active in order to facilitate their overall development and gradual involvement in activities of the community.