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Equine Enablers

Horses are used as therapy for a variety of ailments

A dog may be man's best friend, but for some 300,000 people in North America whose problems range from traumatic injuries to cerebral palsy and mental retardation, the horse is the animal of therapeutic choice, reports this story on CNN.

The therapy has two forms, the story says. One, called hippotherapy, involves a physical therapist walking along with the patient sitting on the horse. Michael Kaufmann, spokesman for the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, says the therapy helps because the natural gait of the horse forces the rider's hip and trunk muscles to react in a natural way. The therapy isn't a cure, but helps, the story says.

The second type, therapeutic riding, is designed to improve strength, muscle control and hand-eye coordination. In this type of therapy, the patient rides alone.

The report notes that doctors often say their patients' spirits improve and their socialization skills get better after contact with the horses. However, insurance companies are often reluctant to pay for the treatment.

The Federation of Riding for the Disabled International has lots of information about the therapy. And the American Hippotherapy Association has a good explanation of the process.

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