Equine Assisted Activities
What is Hippotherapy?
Hippotherapy is a treatment that uses the multidimensional movement of the horse. It is derived from the Greek word "hippos" which means 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 be generalized to a wide range of daily activities.
The horse's walk provides sensory input through movement which 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 horse's 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.
Physically, hippotherapy can improve balance, posture, mobility and function. Hippotherapy may also affect psychological, cognitive, behavioral and communication functions for clients of all ages. Clients who may benefit from hippotherapy can have a variety of diagnoses: examples include Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Developmental Delay, Traumatic Brain Injury, Stroke, Autism and Learning or Language Disabilities. However, hippotherapy is not for every client. Each potential client must be evaluated on an individual basis by specially trained health professionals.
Therapeutic riding has myriad benefits that have been noted for centuries. Therapeutic riding improves balance, joint mobility, coordination, muscle tone and posture, and it can ease symptoms of a wide variety of disabilities, including brain injuries, multiple sclerosis, hearing or visual impairments, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, Down syndrome and cardiovascular disease. Plus, it’s great for helping students improve motor skills, concentration and problem-solving abilities.
During therapeutic riding, 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. Therapeutic riding instructors use props, games and exercises that allow riders with cognitive disabilities to learn complex tasks on the horse. Instructors incorporate daily living skills and basic education into riding lessons. (taken from American Quarterhorse Association Publication)