Hippotherapy in the Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Project location: ITALY, Magliano in Toscana
Project start date: December 2012 - Project end date: September 2013
Project number: 2012-068
Beneficiary: Alleanza per lo Sviluppo e la Cooperazione ONG


The aim of this initiative is to create a Centre of Excellence in the field of hippotherapy which will contribute towards improving the physical and mental health of adults and children of all ages who are affected by diseases associated with rheumatoid arthritis, motor disorders in general and a series of psycho-physical traumas. This will be done through the use of horses, in open spaces and nature, and thanks to the specific characteristics of the surrounding territory.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (R.A.) is a chronic disease affecting synovial membranes of joints that tends to persist over time. This membrane responds to inflammation by increasing in volume and giving rise to the synovial pannus, which invades the cartilage resulting in erosion and progressive destruction. In addition to involving the joints and producing swelling, pain and stiffness, R.A. results in anaemia, fatigue, weight loss, fever and disability; moreover, in the long-term the drugs administered induce a series of side effects, e.g. long-term use of cortisone results in significant bone decalcification.

Hippotherapy comprises a series of rehabilitation techniques aimed at overcoming sensory, cognitive and behavioural deficits through use of a sporting-recreational riding activity. Although not a substitute for traditional medicine, hippotherapy and an interaction between man and horse, may effectively compensate for, and enhance efficacy of, medical treatment by inducing functional, psychic and motor improvement through the skilled application of numerous stimuli experienced in the course of the interaction between man and horse. A series of therapeutic exercises is administered to the affected subject.

Why does riding therapy produce such good results?
- because horses move rhythmically at various, foreseeable paces to which body movements can easily adapt
- because horses are extremely receptive to body language and gestures
- because riding at different paces involves use of a series of muscle groups and implicates various areas of psychophysiology and psychomotor function
- because it is capable of eliciting intense sentiments and emotions; the benefits produced by an emotional involvement in the learning process is a widely acknowledged fact
- because the visual and spatial stimuli provided by the specific riding school environment, with its range of colours and varying degrees of light, in association with the horse's movements, produce an oriented visual attention, thus enhancing acquisition of spatial dimension
- because contact with a large animal aids perception and self-awareness
- because horses possess a range of qualities - warmth, softness, smell, regular movements, large eyes with a penetrating gaze - all of which are implicated in stimulating the bonding process, a fundamental aspect of human development
- because riding allows the rider to establish physical contact and to obtain satisfaction both by providing care, caresses and massages, and through the displaying of satisfaction by the horse in response to attention.

The project received a grant from the Nando Peretti Foundation and foresees the creation of a medical/therapeutic Centre of Excellence in Italy through partnerships with Hospitals, Local Health Authorities, Pharmaceutical networks, Associations for the Disabled, the Red Cross, Church Parishes.
The farm land on which the riding school - and therefore the new complex to be used in developing the Hippotherapy project - will be built comprises fields and olive groves situated among the hills of Maremma dell'Alberese, virtually at the heart of the Tuscan Maremma region, 8km from the sea. The area is renowned for its age-old tradition of the rearing of selected Sardinian sheep. Since 1992, following the arrival of Faial from Portugal, the area has been used in the breeding of thoroughbred Lusitano horses.
This project will also provide an opportunity to appreciate the territory.
Courses will be organized in collaboration with the instructor Francesco Vedani.

Alleanza per lo Sviluppo e la Cooperazione ONG
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