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Muscle Reaction Function of Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities May Be Improved Through Therapeutic Use of a Horse

Reaction time and muscle activation deficits might limit the individual’s autonomy in activities of daily living and in participating in recreational activities. The aim of the present study was to assess the effects of a 14-week hippotherapy exercise program on movement reaction time and muscle activation in adolescents with intellectual disability (ID). Nineteen adolescents with moderate ID were assigned either to an experimental group (n = 10) or a control group (n = 9). The experimental group attended a hippotherapy exercise program, consisting of two 30-min sessions per week for 14 weeks. Reaction time, time of maximum muscle activity and electromyographic activity (EMG) of rectus femoris and biceps femoris when standing up from a chair under three conditions: in response to audio, visual and audio with closed eyes stimuli were measured. Analysis of variance designs showed that hippotherapy intervention program resulted in significant improvements in reaction time and a reduction in time to maximum muscle activity of the intervention group comparing to the control group in all 3 three conditions that were examined (p < 0.05). The present findings suggest that the muscle reaction function of individuals with ID can be improved through hippotherapy training. Hippotherapy probably creates a changing environment with a variety of stimuli that enhance deep proprioception as well as other sensory inputs. In conclusion, this study provides evidence that hippotherapy can improve functional task performance by enhancing reaction time.

 The aim of the present study is to assess the effects of a hippotherapy intervention program on movement and reaction time to visual and auditory stimuli and on muscle activation adaptations in adolescents with ID.

 Overall, the findings from this study suggest that hippotherapy can be an effective intervention to improve reaction time and movement responses for adolescents with ID. Reaction time is a cognitive process which is closely related to the decision speed that provides one with the necessary information to decide what to do next while performing activities of daily living or work related tasks. Individuals with ID are slower when performing voluntary movements and therefore they become more dependent on others and, hence, a lower quality of life. Thus, it seems important during therapeutic sessions to offer variable practice activities to provide sensory information in different contexts to facilitate learning. The complex sensory motor stimulation offered by the horse’s movement, provides a training method that could be an effective physical activity intervention that lead individuals with ID to learn strategies, to receive and process information more effectively.


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