What is hippotherapy?
Hippotherapy is a physical, occupational, and speech-language therapy treatment strategy that utilizes equine movement as part of an integrated intervention program to achieve functional outcomes.
How does hippotherapy work?
Each hippotherapy session involves a licensed occupational, speech or physical therapist, a trained therapy horse, an equine leader and a sidewalker that provides additional support for children on the horse.
The licensed therapist will position children on the horse in a variety of ways. The horse will provide a dynamic base of support, making it an excellent tool for increasing core strength and control, balance, building overall postural strength and endurance, addressing weight bearing, and. motor planning while the therapist guides the child through a variety of fine and gross motor activities. Equine movement offers sensory, vestibular, proprioceptive, visual and tactile input. .
As the horse walks, the child must perform subtle adjustments in the trunk to maintain a stable position. When a patient is sitting forward on the horse, the horse’s walking gait imparts movement responses remarkably similar to normal human gait. For children who are non-ambulatory, this gives them input that is similar to walking!
The effects of the horse’s movement on postural control, sensory systems, and motor planning can be used to facilitate coordination and timing, grading of responses, respiratory control, sensory integration skills and attentional skills. The horse’s movement can be used to facilitate the neurophysiological systems that support all of our functional daily living skills.
For children, therapy at Green Hill feels playful and they often enjoy a chance to ‘ride’ and pet a horse though a session is very difficult. Your child will be getting a very intense workout while working on functional outcomes. The most common word kids at Green Hill use to describe therapy at Green Hill is “fun” and we are happy to be able to offer playful and effective therapy.
Hippotherapy is NOT Therapeutic Riding
Hippotherapy should not be confused with therapeutic riding — hippotherapy is a medically based treatment tool, whereas therapeutic riding involves teaching people with disabilities equestrian skills. Licensed occupational, physical and speech therapist with a Master or PhD provide hippotherapy.
American Hippotherapy Association Certification
Green Hill is committed to providing therapists who are specifically trained to utilize equine movement. We encourage you to check out the American Hippotherapy Association page at https://www.americanhippotherapyassociation.org for more information about hippotherapy.
History of Hippotherapy
Although Hippocrates first mentioned using horses therapeutically in his ancient Greek writings around 400 B.C., it wasn’t until the 1960s that physical therapists in Europe started using horses to help patients with neuromuscular disorders such as cerebral palsy or brain injury. In the 1970’s physical therapists started using equine movement in America, believing that the horse’s movement created neurological changes that helped improve a person’s postural control, strength, and coordination. The American Hippotherapy Association was founded in 1992 and by 1994 the AHA had established a therapist registration and set of standards for the practice of hippotherapy. The practice of hippotherapy is expanding today, as is the body of research that supports it.
Please see links to important clinical research articles below.
- Effects of Hippotherapy on Children with Low Muscle Tone
- Hippotherapy in Children with Developmental Delays: Physical Function and Psychological Benefits
- Effects of Hippotherapy on Gross Motor Function and Functional Performance of Children with Cerebral Palsy
- Effects of hippotherapy and therapeutic horseback riding on postural control or balance in children with cerebral palsy: a meta-analysis
- American Hippotherapy Association Resources