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What Is Hippotherapy

Hippotherapy is a form of physical, occupational and speech therapy that uses equine (horse) movement to develop and enhance neurological and physical functioning by channeling the movement of the horse. Hippotherapy is built on the concept that the individual’s neuromuscular development is enhanced when their body makes adjustments to the gait, tempo, rhythm, repetition and cadence of a horse’s movement.

The Starting Point

In today’s world, children with cerebral palsy often benefit from several traditional treatments and therapies designed to greatly enhance his or her abilities, and by extension, his or her quality of life. Some therapies – such as physical therapy – are commonly deployed for those with mobility and function impairment. But others, like equine therapy – also known as hippotherapy – take an unconventional path in the effort to increase a child’s physical strength and cognitive capabilities.

Based on the concept that humans with physical challenges can benefit from both learned and spontaneous reactions while riding a horse, hippotherapy was conceived in the 1960s and used primarily in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland as a companion to more established treatments. Hippotherapy was recognized in the United States in the 1980s as a therapy that not only helps patients with neuromuscular dysfunction increase physical strength and cognitive ability, but also offers the individual a chance to take advantage of an enjoyable activity that contributes to a positive therapeutic experience.

Hippotherapy is a form of physical, occupational and speech therapy that uses equine movement to develop and enhance neurological and physical functioning by channeling the movement of the horse. Hippotherapy is not to be confused with therapeutic horseback riding, in which individuals are taught specific riding skills.

Hippotherapy is built on the concept that the individual and variable gait, tempo, rhythm, repetition and cadence of a horse’s movement can influence human neuromuscular development in humans. Horseback riding triggers a series of complex physical and mental reactions; such as making physical adjustments to maintain proper alignment on the horse. Riders must also plan movements to maintain balance on the horse, and be able to interact with the animal.

With a wide variety of diagnoses that this is beneficial to, recent studies have determined that Hippotherapy is appropriate for specific diagnoses including:

• Attention Deficit Disorder
• Autism Spectrum Disorders

• Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

• Cerebral Palsy
• Closed Head Injury
• Developmental Delay
• Down Syndrome

• Emotional Disorders
• Hearing Impairment
• Multiple Sclerosis
• Muscular Dystrophy

• Paralysis
• Scoliosis
• Spinal Bifida
• Cognitive disabilities after Traumatic Brain Injury

Hippotherapy, through equine movement, works by further developing physical and cognitive abilities, including:

Strength

Control

Balance

Posture

Endurance

Coordination

Sensory integration

Understanding of visual cues

 

Hippotherapy Benefits

Physically

• Respiratory control
• Improved postural symmetry
• Reduced abnormal muscle tone
• Control of extremities
• Trunk core strength
• Improved gross motor skills
• Enhancing balance and strength
• Increase Endurance 

Cognitively

• Visual coordination
• Sensory input
• Tactile responses
• Improved attention
• Increased ability to express thoughts and needs
• Improve understanding of visual cues
• Enhanced response time

Psychologically

• Improved self-esteem
• Opportunities for social interactions
• Increased enthusiasm with treatments
• Enjoyable interactions with the animal