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"Cabalgando la Vida" (Riding life), horses help child cancer survivors

Child cancer survivors may suffer from both medium- and long-term effects from the disease itself, as well as from the cancer therapy they’ve had to endure. As a result, it is important to monitor them, not only to foresee a possible relapse or the appearance of another tumor but also to analyze these effects. This research analyzes the benefits of horse-assisted rehabilitation with the goal of improving quality of life for these children. The project, promoted and financed by the Real Club de Polo de Barcelona Foundation through the donations of RCPB members, collaborators, sponsors, fans, etc., is the social branch of the CSIO Barcelona. This joint effort, spearheaded by the international show-jumping competition, will benefit many children affected by this terrible disease while showcasing the powerful healing abilities of our horses. The clinical study is being carried out by the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital and the Gimbernat University Schools in cooperation with the Federica Cerdá Foundation and the Spanish Association Against Cancer (AECC).

“Being able to participate in this study has been an amazing gift to us,” statedGemma Castellón, showing her happiness at the official presentation of the “Cabalgando la Vida” (Riding Life) project that took place at the Federica Cerdá Foundation facility. Her daughter, Ona, is one of the girls participating in the horse therapy study launched by the Real Club de Polo de Barcelona Foundation. “Ona has always loved riding, and when she beat her illness, we thought that horse-assisted therapy could help her get her old life back. When the Vall d’Hebron Hospital called us to participate in the study, we couldn’t believe it. Sometimes Ona wakes up tired, in pain, not wanting to do anything... but she always has the strength and enthusiasm to come here. The effects of this therapy have been miraculous, and we will always be grateful to the Real Club de Polo de Barcelona Foundation for this great opportunity.”

The clinical trial so far includes 20 participants between the ages of 4 and 18 who were discharged from cancer therapy between 6 months and 1 year prior. Out of these participants, half are involved in horse-assisted therapy in addition to the treatment guidelines and follow-up specified for their disease, while the other half only participate in regular treatment and follow-up.

Rehabilitation consists of 24 individual sessions, once per week. With the help of a horse therapy rehabilitation specialist, the children do various activities with the horses to stimulate their memory, abilities, and motor skills and improve their mood. “During the study, we analyze physical variables such as balance and coordination, as well as psychological variables such as general health, anxiety, depression, mood, and sociability, to see if their quality of life improves,” explained Dr. Anna Llort, an assistant in Vall d’Hebron University Hospital’s Pediatric Oncology Department. “So far we have been finding that both the experience of riding a horse and interacting with it, as well as the movements while on the animal, result in improvements in these areas. At the same time, we are confident that the therapy also has benefits on an emotional level, improving patients’ self-esteem as well as their state of mind,” said Anna Saló, psychologist for Vall d’Hebron University Hospital’s Pediatric Oncology Department. 

“When riding, the horse transfers its three-dimensional movement to the rider, which leads to joint and muscular activity from the pelvis through the ischium to the first cervical vertebra, with respect to the physiology of the human torso. This results in both proprioceptive and exteroceptive functions to be ordered and executed at the same time. The children become aware of the situation and adapt to normal movement thanks to the cadence of the horse’s gait,” explained Teresa Xipell, physiotherapist and director of horse therapy at the Federica Cerdá Foundation. “In addition to that, the horse itself and the natural environment make these activities highly motivating,” she added.


One of the purposes of “Riding Life” is to share the benefits of the symbiosis between horses and humans throughout history. “In a meeting with the Federica Cerdá Foundation, we decided to take on this project that intertwines with the long relationship that has existed between horses and medicine. It began with Hippocrates, whose name actually means “Horse Dominator,” and continued with a long tradition of illustrious medical practitioners who pondered the benefits that horseback riding had on the human body. Today, the benefits of this discipline are well-known around the world,” explained Emilio Zegrí, president of the Real Club de Polo de Barcelona Foundation, who admits that “we could not imagine a more beautiful project to raise awareness about what our friends, the horses, are able to teach us.”


If you want to be a part of this wonderful and exciting initiative, donate