What is Hippotherapy?

Derived from the Greek word "hippo", meaning horse, Hippotherapy is a treatment that uses the multidimensional movement of the horse. Specially trained physical, occupational and speech therapists use this medical treatment for clients who have movement dysfunction. Historically, the therapeutic benefits of the horse were recognized as early as 460 BC. The use of the horse as therapy evolved throughout Europe, the United States and Canada.

Hippotherapy uses activities on the horse that are meaningful to the client. Treatment takes place in a controlled environment where graded sensory input can elicit appropriate adaptive responses from the client. Specific riding skills are not taught (as in therapeutic riding), but rather a foundation is established to improve neurological function and sensory processing. This foundation can then apply to a wide range of daily activities.

The horse's walk provides sensory input through movement that is variable, rhythmic and repetitive. The resultant movement responses in the client are similar to human movement patterns of the pelvis while walking. The variability of the horses' gait enables the therapist to grade the degree of sensory input to the client, then use this movement in combination with other clinical treatments to achieve desired results. Clients respond enthusiastically to this enjoyable learning experience in a natural setting.

The horse's movement can also help mitigate sensory integration issues. A smooth-gaited consistently paced horse can provide the input needed to help a rider establish a rhythm. A rough-gaited horse may provide the stimulation needed to help organize and integrate sensory input. Movement exploration while on the horse can help improve overall body awareness.

  • Cognitively: the horse provides many of our riders with the motivation to learn new things.
  • Educationally: letter recognition and sequencing are part of riding activities.
  • Socially: therapeutic riding activities enable individuals to interact with their peers in a group activity.
Physically, Hippotherapy can improve balance, posture, mobility and function. Hippotherapy may also affect psychological, cognitive, behavioral and communication for clients of all ages.
Clients who may benefit from Hippotherapy can have a variety of diagnoses. However, Hippotherapy is not for every client. Each potential client must be evaluated on an individual basis by specially trained health professionals.

Hippotherapy Process

Hippotherapy is a medical therapeutic strategy that seeks to address particular physical, occupational and speech therapy goals.

Physicians and licensed therapists are essential to the therapy process:

  • Rider family consults with the family physician (typically pediatrician or orthopod) to determine if Hippotherapy may be appropriate.
  • Therapeutic prescription is provided to InStride (fax 941-483-3653) or (email; cindy@InStridetherapy.org).
  • InStride therapist evaluates rider for suitability of Hippotherapy to meet prescription's goals.
  • Rider family and Program Coordinator review time slots, forms to be completed, and charges prior to the start of therapy.
During Hippotherapy, a special-needs individual's body moves in a way very similar to human walking. The horse moves up and down; side to side, and back and forth in synchronized, repetitive patterns, much the same as the human gait. This movement improves the rider's balance, body symmetry, muscle tone, and head and neck control.
Riding is good aerobic exercise, improving the special- needs individual's cardiovascular system. It also provides cognitive and psychological benefits. Riders are encouraged to plan and execute sequenced activities that aid in information processing abilities. During Hippotherapy, the therapist will use props, games and exercises that allow riders with cognitive disabilities to learn complex tasks on the horse. Therapists incorporate daily living skills and basic education into the client's session.