What is Hippotherapy?
Hippotherapy is traditional therapy program administered in a non-traditional therapy environment.
Touch and movement is the basis for central nervous system development and, hence, normal neurodevelopment (swaddle and rock). In many children with developmental disabilities, neurodevelopment has been delayed hindering the development of physical, social, emotional, language and cognitive skills. Children with developmental disabilities may have delays in achieving functional skills such as handwriting, reading, walking, speaking, eating, paying attention, etc. An intact or normally developing central nervous system (brain/spinal cord) is the basis for the development of these functional skills. Within the classroom, teachers are teaching and expecting children to learn NEW FUNCTIONAL SKILLS. If your central nervous system is not functioning properly, it will be difficult for you to take in, make sense out of, and respond appropriately to scenarios that require you to learn NEW FUNCTIONAL SKILLS. Delays in the development of the central nervous system will result in slowed learning, and delays in emotional, physical, language and social skills.
Hippotherapy is a PT, OT, ST treatment approach that uses the movement of the horse to stimulate the central nervous system. Hippotherapy also includes the use of other treatment approaches (Sensory Integration, NDT, Bobath, Biomechanical, etc.) within the treatment session. Responses to hippotherapy are immediate and easily recognizable by parents and caregivers alike. Because the horse’s back provides a three-dimensional moving surface, the gait of the horse simulates human gait and is much more effective than equipment used in a traditional therapy environment. “A survey of therapists providing hippotherapy across the country conducted in 2002 revealed 75% of hippotherapy clients showed functional improvements in sitting, standing, walking, upper extremity tasks and speech and language behavior in only seven weeks.”
In contrast to Therapeutic Riding, which teaches adapted riding skills, hippotherapy students respond to the movement of the horse at a walk or slow trot in a variety of movement patterns designed to elicit responses such as postural and ocular control, balance reactions and other motor responses. Hippotherapy students generally show immediate improvements in attention span, breathing, articulation, language and balance once astride the horse. Students are treated in 60 minute sessions either on a weekly or bi-weekly basis and expected not to last longer than 6-9 months. Generally speaking, the younger the student, the wider the window of opportunity is to influence neurodevelopment.
Click here for information on hippotherapy clinical research.
For an informative piece on hippotherapy as an effective treatment strategy, view American Association of Hippotherapy’s position statement AHA Position Statement
For more information go to: www.americanhipptherapyassociation.org
“A Retrospective Study of Hippotherapy Patients’ Responses to Treatment”, Nancy H. McGibbon, American Hippotherapy Association, Vol 12, No. 1, Spring 2003