Magic Carpet of Research

Successfully helping children one horse at a time.

Starting back in 1998 with only $500 and two borrowed horses, Heidi Brady, Ph.D., started Texas Tech Equestrian Center to satisfy the needs of a class. After 24 years, the Texas Tech Equestrian Center has grown far beyond its initial expectations. 

Being the first-ever research study done on this topic and age range, researchers at the Texas Tech University Department of Animal and Food Sciences and Texas Tech Health Sciences Center conducted a pilot study to combine expertise on how well two-year-olds responded to hippotherapy. 

Hippotherapy is a term that refers to the use of the movement of a horse as a treatment modality by trained physical, occupational and speech therapists. The research team led by Heidi Brady, Ph.D. and Leslie Thompson, Ph. D. noticed how quickly and positively these children were responding to the hippotherapy, but they wanted to measure it.

Little girl atop of Queen, a hippotherapy lesson horse at the Texas Tech Therapeutic Riding Center.
Little girl atop of Queen, a hippotherapy lesson horse at the Texas Tech Therapeutic Riding Center.

The research team narrowed their research field down to 2-year-olds with gross motor delay of 25 percent or more. They decided to measure the improvements in gait parameters in the children by having the children and their parents go to a Health Sciences Center biomechanics lab and ride an elaborate bike called the Vicon system. 

From there, they would proceed to put measuring sensors on the children and have them walk around the room. This would measure their gait, speed and width, their joints, and their walking skills.

Another way they measured the improvements was a therapist would conduct a test before and after hippotherapy called a Battelle (tell development inventory test). This would measure their gross motor skills. The children would ride out at the center for half an hour once a week for 15 weeks. The measurements would be taken before and after 15 weeks. The children improved by an average of 30 percent.  

Going a step further, the research team will be fine-tuning their previous work with graduate student Morgan Kinnear and studying the ages between two and five. Due to a grant being gifted to the center, the children now do not have to go to the Health Sciences Center’s lab. 

“Not such an intimidating environment,” Thompson said.

As a result of the grant, a “carpet” with sensors to track children’s gate speed and width, their joints, and their walking skills.

 “They will get to walk on the magic carpet,” Brady said.

Leslie Thompson, Ph.D. and Brady, Ph.D., believe the future of the industry is in university research and they encourage parents to start the hippotherapy program early as possible.

“We are very dedicated to the service hereof providing the highest quality sessions of therapeutic riding, hippotherapy and equine wellness and counseling to individuals in the area that can benefit” Brady said.