What is Hippotherapy?

The term hippotherapy refers to how occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech-language pathology professionals use evidence-based practice and clinical reasoning in the purposeful manipulation of equine movement to engage sensory, neuromotor, and cognitive systems to achieve functional outcomes. In conjunction with the affordances of the equine environment and other treatment strategies, hippotherapy is part of a patient’s integrated plan of care.

The Principles of Hippotherapy

  • The horse’s movement promotes active responses in the patient.
  • Variations in the horse’s movement, as directed by the therapists, promote variations in the patient’s response.
  • Patient responses are intended to affect function.

Specific Benefits of Hippotherapy

  • Arousal and attention
  • Balance strategies
  • Belief in one’s functional capabilities
  • Bilateral integration
  • Body awareness
  • Circulation
  • Dynamic postural stability
  • Endurance
  • Expressive and/or receptive speech and language
  • Midline orientation
  • Mobility of pelvis, spine, and hip joints
  • Modification of muscle tonus
  • Motivation
  • Muscle strength
  • Musculoskeletal alignment
  • Neurogenic bladder
  • Neuromotor function
  • Oral-motor function
  • Posture
  • Problem-solving movement strategies
  • Respiratory function
  • Self-confidence
  • Sensorimotor integration
  • Symmetry and alignment
  • Timing and coordination of motor strategies

Further reading:

Effect of Hippotherapy on Motor Control, Adaptive Behaviors, and Participation in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder:  A Pilot StudyHeather F. AjzenmanJohn W. StandevenTim L. Shurtleff.  American Journal of Occupational Therapy  November/December 2013, Vol. 67, 653-663.