The movement of the horse’s pelvis is remarkably similar to the movement in humans. Because of that, horses are used as part of physical and occupational therapy sessions and speech pathology. Licensed therapists work with certified instructors to incorporate horses into a broader therapy plans for individuals with special needs.
Hippotherapy used to be defined as treatment with the help of the horse, because “hippo” is Greek for horse. Treatment is accelerated because of the horse’s warmth and rocking gate.
According to the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.) website, “The American Hippotherapy Association, Inc., defines hippotherapy as a physical, occupational or speech therapy treatment strategy that utilizes equine movement as a treatment strategy by physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech/language pathologists to address impairments, functional limitations and disabilities in patients with neuromotor and sensory dysfunction.”
“Rather than using a saddle and bridle, the participant sits on top of a sheepskin rug directly on the back of the horse,” said Kelly Peterson, founder of Acorn Hill EAAT, Inc. “The warmth loosens muscles and the rocking motion sends input up to the brain that can literally teach our human brain how to walk.”
The Motley, Minnesota, certified instructed explained that planned activities are set up around the arena, with fun, motivating and age-appropriate tasks to do while riding. Therapy goals are measured and later recorded. The horse is handled by another team member who walks behind and guides the horse using long reins. A licensed therapist walks on one side, a trained side walker is on the other.
“Often it is helpful to also have a trained arena assistant to help scoop up balls that have rolled away and retrieve things that have been dropped,” she added.
Since hippotherapy is part of an integrated treatment strategy overseen by licensed health care providers, it can be covered by health insurance.