Hypertonia and Hypotonia

In therapeutic riding, we often see clients who have issues with muscle tone. Hypertonia and hypotonia are two terms used to describe muscle tone. Hypertonia means high muscle tone and lack of flexibility. This often involves stiff movements and poor balance. Hypotonia means low muscle tone and too much flexibility, which can result in difficulty lifting limbs or struggling with fine and gross motor activities.

Therapeutic riding can help both hypertonia and hypotonia as long as there are no contraindications to riding.

The horse choice is very important for both types of muscle tone. A client with hypertonia may need a more narrow horse with smooth gaits. A wide horse could stretch the rider’s hips too far and a bouncy gait will cause the muscles to tighten even more. A smooth gait encourages muscles to relax, which helps with balance and flexibility. Oftentimes, the horse’s movement is enough to help with hypertonia but a therapeutic riding lesson can offer more. Crossing the body, stretching toward the mane, and different riding positions can all help the client increase flexibility.

A client with hypotonia likely needs a wider horse with bigger gaits. The wide horse provides more stability and the bigger gaits stimulate the weaker muscles. The horse’s bilateral movement can help strengthen the core muscles so the client may eventually be able to sit unassisted. Tasks that boost gross motor skills (sitting astride a horse) and fine motor skills (holding the reins) are beneficial for clients with hypotonia.

Lessons for clients with hypertonia should be built around flexibility and balance. Large bends or circles can help with balance. Playing games to get the rider to stretch down to toes or up to a pole help with flexibility.

Clients with hypotonia benefit from lessons focused on motor skills and core strength. Walking around the arena might be stimulating enough for these riders. Ball tosses are good for gross and fine motor skill development. Steering the horse through cones or obstacles is another good lesson to develop motor skills.

What are some other activities that help clients with hypertonia or hypotonia? Give me ideas down below!

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About Me

Hello! I am a PATH, Intl CTRI (certified therapeutic riding instructor) and ESMHL (equine specialist in mental health and learning). I am also a graduate student clinician in speech-language pathology.

This is my little arena where I will share my experience in equine assisted activities and my burgeoning knowledge in speech-language pathology.

I’m so happy to have you here!


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