What is hippotherapy? 

The term hippotherapy originates from the Greek word, “hippos” meaning horse (or equine), and roughly translates as “treatment with the help of the horse”. Simply put, hippotherapy refers to the use of equine movement (the movement of the horse) as a treatment tool within occupational therapy, physical therapy or speech language pathology treatment.

Hippotherapy at MCRC in 2002

When including hippotherapy in treatment, therapists carefully select horses for their clients, based on their temperament, movement and confirmation.  The movement of the horse is then carefully and purposefully manipulated to impact the client. In addition, skilled and licensed therapists use various developmental positions to further enhance this movement. Hippotherapy is combined with other standard therapy tools/strategies in an intervention plan designed to address the treatment needs of the client.

Why use a horse?

MCRC hippotherapy in 2003

The average horse walks at a rate of approximately 100 steps per minute.  Just 5 minutes on a walking horse represents 500 neuro motor inputs to the patient.  In a typical therapy session, 15 to 25 minutes of equine movement may be incorporated by the treating therapist – which represents 1500 to 2500 neuromotor inputs to the patient. 

Incorporating hippotherapy into an occupational therapy, physical therapy or speech language pathology session can serve as a powerful tool for the facilitation of the key neuromotor systems that support function.  Skillfully applied equine movement, under the direction of a therapist, can offer the patient the opportunity for complex motor learning.

Strength, Muscle Coordination and Sensory Processing used for walking, talking, and the use of fine motor skills for activities of daily living and general attention to tasks have all been shown to be positively impacted by equine movement as a facilitation tool/strategy, when under the direction of a therapist, as part of a larger total plan of care. In additional, increased motivation and participation in treatment and social emotional benefits have been reported.

Source American Hippotherapy Association 2019