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Research could validate horse therapy benefits at East Texas center

By Glenn Evans
Dec. 25, 2012 at 11 p.m.


Insurance companies live by numbers, so it's not enough to hear from an army of parents saying their children with developmental or cognitive disorders are helped by horse therapy.

That might change if research that's in a high gait at Windridge Equestrian Therapeutic Center of East Texas pans out. Executive Director Margo Dewkett has long said the movements of a walking horse stimulate muscle groups the rider would use while walking if his or her brain were more in control.

This past week, a researcher for a company that developed software to quantify Dewkett's claim was at the therapy ranch west of the Diana area to train the staff on how to complete that mission.

"Quantifying the improvements in the riders over a period of time while exposed to this therapy will validate it," said Cameron Nott, senior research engineer for Orbis, maker of the Orbis Biomechanical System Integration Suite.

OBSIS, as researchers call it, uses motion-capture sensors on the horse and rider to produce a digital image of what's going on with both.

"Our software takes that information and calculates different biomechanical measures," said Nott, a doctor of mechanical engineering from South Africa. "We calculate the joint angles. We calculate the joint power, and then our software collects the data and processes the data. And then it generates a report on the data."

It's the kind of hard data that the growing hippotherapy movement can show insurers who typically deny customer requests they cover sessions of horse therapy. (The "hippo" comes from Greek roots of the word "horse," but that probably hasn't kept insurance claims officers from scratching their heads).

"It has not been accepted as a formalized form of therapy that insurance companies are willing to pay out," Nott said. "We need to show that it works. They say it works, but you really need to show scientific improvement, that there is improvement in the mobility and performance of the subject."

A second goal of quantifying the horse and rider relationship is it will set measurable marks that horses must achieve to get their own certification.

"This is sound research, and people are doing it - we are not the only ones," Nott said. "But, Margo has the equipment and facilities to be at the forefront of hippotherapy research. We'll keep working with them in the future, but they are training themselves to be completely independent and do this thing."

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