Hippotherapy is a strategy in which the unique movements of a horse are incorporated with physical, occupational and speech therapy in order to engage a patient’s sensorimotor and neuromotor systems to promote functional change in various skills. Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH) certifies our therapists and requires that both they and the farm maintain the highest standards for safety. We support all of our staff with their effort for continued education and exploring the latest research concerning hippotherapy and therapeutic riding. Our instructors use evidence-based practice and their clinical experience to customize each session in a manner that is integrated with our students’ overarching plan of care. Hippotherapy has been shown to create statistically significant changes in posture, strength, flexibility, muscle symmetry, and a number of other benefits. In a hippotherapy session the horse partners with the therapist during the session as targeted activities serve to address specific goals for the individual. Students receiving hippotherapy have the assistance of two to four volunteers who help guide the horse and provide stabilization and assistance to the rider as needed. Riding independently is not an inherent goal of hippotherapy but some of our students reach this place and also engage in therapeutic riding.
Hippotherapy is a form of physical, occupational and speech therapy in which a therapist uses a horse’s movements to provide motor and sensory input. Medical professionals use the movement and temperament of the horse to meet specific goals that cannot be duplicated in a clinical setting. The horse’s walking gait almost perfectly simulates the movement a child makes when walking, which allows children with motor deficits to develop muscle strength, normalize tone and gain endurance. The movement also facilitates improved auditory and verbal processing, communication and interactive skills.
Hippotherapy comes from the Greek word hippos (horse) and literally refers to treatment or therapy aided by a horse. The earliest record of the concept originates in Ancient Greece, but hippotherapy as a formalized discipline began in the 1960s in Germany, Austria and Switzerland as an addition to traditional physical therapy. In the late 1980s, the first standardized hippotherapy curriculum was officially formed by a group of Canadian and American therapists who traveled to Germany to learn about the program. They applied the discipline to North America, and it was formalized in the U.S. in 1992 with the formation of the American Hippotherapy Association (AHA).
- Physical therapists incorporate the horse’s multi-dimensional movement to achieve gait training, balance, postural/core control, and strengthening and range of motion goals.
- Occupational therapists use the horse’s movement to improve motor control, coordination, balance, attention, sensory processing and performance in daily tasks. The therapist incorporates the movement of the horse to engage the sensory system in preparation for a therapy treatment goal that leads to a functional activity.
- Hippotherapy uses horses to accomplish traditional speech, language, cognitive and swallowing goals. Children with speech deficits learn to vocalize because they must give commands to the horse, which builds confidence and strengthens speech clarity.
Hippotherapy is a widely accepted treatment modality within medical and educational communities. The unique combination of the horse, the horse’s movement and a non-clinical environment produces an extraordinary effort on all the systems of the body and allows children to improve functions in a fun way.
Safety is a top priority of the program. All riders are required to wear regulation safety helmets and are supervised at all times by either a spotter or one to two side-walkers, depending on their functioning ability. Horses are matched to the rider’s ability level and are all thoroughly trained.
Any type of breed of horse is eligible for the program, but we only use those that have great attitudes. Most of our horses are older and have had other previous jobs. It is essential to have a calm horse with a steady rhythmic pace.
Hippotherapy is taught by licensed professionals, and BDF has both a speech pathologist and physical therapist.
Children must be at least two years old to participate in hippotherapy.