Date of Award


Document Type

Scholarly Project

Degree Name

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT)


Physical Therapy

First Advisor

Peggy Mohr


Electromyography; Horses; Hippotherapy


The use of horseback riding as a therapeutic intervention has been used since the fifth century, B.C.1 It has been proposed that the physical benefits of horseback riding include: improved posture, balance, muscle strength, decreased spasticity, improved gait patterns, and coordination. Unfortunately, at the current time, hippotherapy, the use of horses in physical therapy intervention, has been poorly documented due to little objective research. The purpose of this study was to provide an objective measure of children's postural muscle activity through the use of electromyography (EMG) and electrogoniometry on two dynamic surfaces. Data was analyzed for differences in postural muscle activity and range of motion (ROM) when using a horse as a dynamic therapeutic surface as compared to a therapeutic ball as a dynamic surface. Goniometric data was collected in the frontal and sagittal planes for pelvic and trunk ROM.

Thirteen, typically developing children between the ages of 3 and 12, and two ' children with developmental disabilities between the ages of 6 and 11, completed the research protocol including walking 20 feet, one trial of each of the following: static sitting for 10 seconds, static standing for 10 seconds, riding a horse for 30 seconds, and sitting on a dynamic therapeutic ball for 30 seconds. Muscle activity of the rectus abdominis (RA), external obliques (EO), and lumbar erector spinae (LES) muscles, was recorded through surface electrodes, muscle activity in each trial was compared with the muscle activity during the walking as the reference baseline.

Results of this study provided objective data on the effects of two dynamic surfaces, a horse and therapeutic ball, on postural muscle activity in typically developing children. Compared to the therapeutic ball, when the subjects were on the horse they had significantly (p<0.05) more muscle activity in the RA and EO muscles.

Goniometric results showed that overall the subjects had more ROM in the frontal plane during the therapeutic ball activity (2.8 to 9.4 degrees) as compared to walking (1.6 to 6.9 degrees) and horse activity (2.1 to 9.9 degrees). Subjects also had more ROM in the sagittal plane during therapeutic ball activity (1.9 to 17.8 degrees) as compared to walking (2.5 to 15.0 degrees) and horse activity (0.4 to 20.9 degrees).

This study provided an objective measure of postural muscle activity and pelvic and trunk ROM present in subjects during activities on two dynamic surfaces, the horse and therapeutic ball, compared to walking. It was found that there was more postural muscle activity present in subjects while on the horse versus on the therapeutic ball. Overall, subjects had more ROM in the frontal and sagittal planes during the therapeutic ball activity as compared to the walking and the horse activity, however, ROM for walking and horse activity was similar. Further research is needed in the field of hippotherapy to provide more objective and quantifiable data in order to fully determine the effects of hippotherapy, especially the long-term effects on function.