What is it?

The American Hippotherapy Association, Inc., defines hippotherapy (HPOT) as 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.

How it Works

On the horse, the therapist adjusts and modifies several variables to elicit specific reactions from the client. Those variables include the horse’s speed, direction, and transitions, the position of the client, and the therapeutic activities being performed. Off the horse, treatment can be included in the on-site therapy room or the natural barn/farm environment to prepare the client for the equine movement, or to address functional goals after equine movement.

Neuromotor: The movement of a horse’s hind legs and pelvis is transmitted to the person riding, which causes movement in the pelvis of that person. The rhythmical and symmetrical gait of the horse provides about 3000 “walking” steps to the client in one 30-minute session.

Sensory: The horse, farm site, barn, and arena all provide countless opportunities for sensory exposure on every level.

Cognitive: The client may have to complete complex tasks like following multiple step directions or recalling a sequence of movements, or more simpler tasks like remembering their horse’s name and color.

Equine movement provides opportunities for challenging all systems (motor, musculoskeletal, nervous/limbic, respiratory, circulatory, sensory processing, speech-language, and cognition) and all senses (visual, olfactory, vestibular, auditory, tactile, pain, kinesthetic, and proprioceptive).

Benefits include (but are not limited to) increased

o Arousal and attention

o Balance, postural control and alignment, and dynamic postural stability

o Confidence

o Bilateral integration, midline orientation and body awareness

o Circulation

o Endurance and muscle strength

o Coordination

o Speech and language

o Mobility of the pelvis, hips, and spine

o Modification of muscle tone

o Neuromotor function

o Oral motor function

o Problem solving

o Timing and coordination of muscle movements/motor strategies

o Social interaction/relationship building

For more information, visit The American Hippotherapy Association, Inc.