A historical perspective of Therapeutic Riding (TR)
The introduction of the horse in the treatment of patients, is not a modern invention. From antiquity, the beneficial effects of riding in improving human health they have known and appreciated, without however being part of a therapeutic process. The use of the horse as a therapeutic means, was formulated in ancient Greece, by Xenophon in his book, " On the art of riding " and in the book of Hippocrates, " Physical Exercise". He also described how Asclepius gave horses to humans to alleviate those "suffering from lacerations, wounds and diseases"
From medical documents of the 17th and 18th century, it is clear that some doctors of the era recommended riding as a beneficial exercise for the human body which could positively act and protect against disease.
The current, widespread use of therapeutic riding for people with neurological problems, is believed to be attributed to Liz Hartel, who suffered from polio when she won the silver medal for the dressage at the Olympic Games in Helsinki in 1952. From that moment and after, therapeutic riding gained popularity and spread to many parts of the world and became the cause for the creation of many organizations and associations.
Contemporary research literature on TR begins in the late 1960s, with special education trainer, Antoine Kroger, publishing a remarkable and pioneering for its time article, entitled "Educating with horses." The article describes the beneficial effects of the interaction with the horse, on the behavior and psychomotor development of children and adolescents with behavioral and mental disorders.
There followed quite some research conducted with people with neurological and developmental disorders such as Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation, Autism, Multiple Sclerosis etc. who participated in hippotherapy programs. The majority of these studies showed promising and even impressive results regarding the improvement in motor and/or mental abilities of the above mentioned population. The most important results concern improvement of balance, improvement of posture, increase the range of motion of the joints, improved muscle coordination, improved coarse motor function and gait, but also increase in confidence and concentration/attention.
The documented scientific data now lead health care professionals of pediatric rehabilitation to work with the hippotherapy more and more, resulting in the creation of a number od professional TR and hippotherapy teams in Greece and abroad.
But attention must be payed, as we must not forget that the horse becomes a therapeutic means only when the therapeutic procedure is applied under certain strict conditions, such as specially trained horses, specially designed environment, special equipment and a riding interdisciplinary staff specialized in therapeutic, such as physiotherapists, occupational therapists , speech therapists, psychologists and special educators.