Hippotherapy (Horse Therapy)

Hippos is the Greek word for horse and therefore, hippotherapy, as known as equine therapy, is the therapeutic use of horses.

It is one-on-one physiotherapy treatment with and on the horse for children and adults with neurological and muscular disorders. Physical therapists believed that the horse’s movement created neurological changes that helped improve a person’s postural control, strength, and coordination.

Hippotherapy is suitable for the children with autism as it allows them to experience many different types of beneficial sensory stimulation — muscles and joints receive deep pressure stimulation from bouncing and holding positions (like kneeling or standing on the horse), and the brain receives vestibular stimulation (to sense movement and balance) as the horse moves (in circles, up and down hills) and changes speeds. Also, because a horse walks with a gait that’s similar to the human gait — variable, rhythmic, and repetitive — a child who has never walked or who has an abnormal gait can sit on a horse and experience what “normal” feels like.

The therapist is always in control of the horse’s movement, choosing activities that will help achieve specific outcomes. The dynamic movement of the horse combined with the dynamic environment leads to functional change.

A 2016 study in the Physical & Occupational Therapy in Pediatrics journal found that

Hippotherapy provided by a trained therapist who applies an intense and graded session for 10 weeks can improve body functions and performance of gross motor and fine motor activities. 

By applying different combinations of patterns like circle, serpentine’s and spirals; gaits and speeds like slow walk, fast walk and trot; riding postures like sitting facing forward, sitting sideways, on hands and knees, lying face-down and standing, the highly-trained therapists are able to provide precisely the sensory and neurological input each child with benefit from most.

Many other advantages can be gained through hippotherapy such as relaxing the tight muscle, improving the muscle strength, sharpening hand or/and eye coordination, gaining self-confident, etc.