How Hippotherapy Is Used with Pediatric Therapy
by Martina Tannahill, DPT
Kids Place Central Pediatric Physical Therapist
The term hippotherapy originates from the Greek word, “hippos” meaning horse. Hippotherapy involves using the natural gait and movement of a horse as a treatment tool and strategy that can be incorporated and integrated into an occupational or physical therapy plan of care. Hippotherapy has been used to treat patients with neurological or other disabilities, such as autism, cerebral palsy, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, head injury, stroke, spinal cord injury, behavioral disorders and psychiatric disorders.
Hippotherapy and Physical Therapy
Multidirectional movements of the horse are utilized in gait training, balance, body awareness, spatial awareness, postural control, strengthening, and increasing range of motion.
Hippotherapy and Occupational Therapy
Movements of the horse are utilized with the intention to improve motor control, coordination, balance, attention, sensory processes, and performance in daily activities. Sensory processes, vestibular, proprioceptive, tactile, visual, and auditory systems are targeted simultaneously. (Silkwood-Sherer DJ, et al, 2012)
The main difference between hippotherapy and therapeutic riding is that hippotherapy is a medical based treatment that directly involves a trained occupational therapist and/or a physical therapist. “Therapists use evidence-based practice and clinical reasoning in the purposeful manipulation of a horse’s movement to engage sensory, neuromotor and cognitive systems to achieve functional outcomes.” Therapists take multiple courses and have hours of hands on training and mentoring. In addition, they can take an examination with the American Hippotherapy Certification Board (AHCB) to become certified signifying they are trained in the current knowledge of hippotherapy as a specialized area of practice.
- Silkwood-Sherer DJ, Killian CB, Long TM, Martin KS. Hippotherapy–an intervention to habilitate balance deficits in children with movement disorders:a clinical trial. Phys Ther. 2012;92:707–17. [PubMed]
- Lee CW, Kim SG, Yong MS. Effects of hippotherapy on recovery of gait and balance ability in patients with stroke. J Phys Ther Sci. 2014;26(2):309–11
- Shurtleff TL, Engsberg JR. Changes in trunk and head stability in children with cerebral palsy after hippotherapy:a pilot study. Phys Occup Ther Pediatr. 2010;30:150–63