Hippotherapy As A Treatment Strategy
Hippotherapy: is a physical, occupational, and speech-language therapy treatment strategy that utilizes equine movement as part of an integrated intervention program to achieve functional outcomes.
Equine movement provides multidimensional movement, which is variable, rhythmic and repetitive. The horse provides a dynamic base of support, making it an excellent tool for increasing trunk strength and control, balance, building overall postural strength and endurance, addressing weight bearing, and. motor planning. Equine movement offers well-modulated sensory input to vestibular, proprioceptive, tactile and visual channels. During gait transitions, the patient must perform subtle adjustments in the trunk to maintain a stable position. When a patient is sitting forward astride the horse, the horse’s walking gait imparts movement responses remarkably similar to normal human gait. The effects of equine movement on postural control, sensory systems, and motor planning can be used to facilitate coordination and timing, grading of responses, respiratory control, sensory integration skills and attentional skills. Equine movement can be used to facilitate the neurophysiologic systems that support all of our functional daily living skills.
Physical Therapists: The physical therapist can overlay a variety of motor tasks on the horse’s movement to address the motor needs of each patient and to promote functional outcomes in skill areas related to gross motor ability such as sitting, standing, and walking.
Occupational Therapists: The occupational therapist is able to combine the effects of the equine movement with other standard intervention strategies for working on fine motor control, sensory integration, feeding skills, attentional skills, and functional daily living skills in a progressively challenging manner.
Speech-Language Pathologists: The speech-language pathologist is able to use equine movement to facilitate the physiologic systems that support speech and language. When combined with other standard speech-language intervention strategies, the speech-language pathologist is able generate effective remediation of communication disorders and promote functional communication outcomes.
Specially trained therapy professionals evaluate each potential patient on an individual basis to determine the appropriateness of including hippotherapy as a treatment strategy.
The therapy professional works closely with the horse professional to manipulate various aspects of the horse’s movement, position, management style, equipment and types of activities to generate effective remediation protocols and to promote functional outcomes.
Why the Horse?
The horse’s walk provides sensory input through movement, which is variable, rhythmic, and repetitive. The resultant movement responses in the patient are similar to human movement patterns of the pelvis while walking. The variability of the horse’s gait enables the therapist to grade the degree of sensory input to the patient, and then utilize this movement in combination with other treatment strategies to achieve desired results. Patients respond enthusiastically to this enjoyable experience in a natural setting.
Hippotherapy uses activities on the horse that are meaningful to the client. Treatment takes place in a controlled environment where graded sensory input can elicit appropriate adaptive responses from the client. Specific riding skills are not taught (as in therapeutic riding), but rather a foundation is established for neurological function and sensory processing. This foundation can then be generalized to a wide array of daily activities.
Physically, hippotherapy can improve balance, posture, mobility and function. Hippotherapy may also improve psychological, cognitive, behavioral and communication functions for clients of all ages. Clients who may benefit from HPOT can have a variety of diagnoses: examples include Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Developmental Delay, Traumatic Brain Injury, Stroke, Autism and Learning or Language Disabilities. However, Hippotherapy is not for every client. Each potential client must be evaluated on an individual basis by specially trained health professionals.
The American Hippotherapy Association was formed in 1993 to promote research, education and communication among PT, OT and SLP’s using the horse in a treatment approach based on principles of classic hippotherapy.
Glossary of Terms:
- Hippotherapy is a physical, occupational, or speech and language therapy treatment strategy that utilizes equine movement. Hippotherapy literally means “treatment with the help of the horse” from the Greek word, “hippos” meaning horse. Specially trained physical and occupational therapists use this treatment for clients with movement dysfunction. In Hippotherapy, the horse influences the client rather than the client controlling the horse. The client is positioned on the horse and actively responds to his movement. The therapist directs the movement of the horse; analyzes the clients responses; and adjusts the treatment accordingly. This strategy is used as part of an integrated treatment program to achieve functional outcomes.
- Therapeutic Riding:
- is a term that has been used for many years to encompass the variety of equine activities in which people with disabilities participate. Though still commonly used, this “umbrella” term has caused confusion among the medical community. When the therapist utilizes the movement of the horse as a treatment strategy to improve neuromuscular function, it is important to consistently use the correct terminology and refer to it as “hippotherapy”.
- The term “hippotherapist” is sometimes seen in print but is a misnomer. There really is no such thing. People conducting hippotherapy sessions are physical, occupational or speech therapists. Hippotherapy is merely a treatment strategy used by these skilled practitioners to achieve functional outcomes.
- Horse Handler:
- The person in charge of the handling of the hippotherapy horse during the treatment session. This person should have extra training in handling horses specifically for hippotherapy.
- The volunteers in charge of walking alongside a client and instrumental in assisting the therapists with maiximizing the treatment session through use of proper guarding techniques, client positioning and assist with safety management.
- The American Hippotherapy Association was formed in 1993 to promote research, education and communication among PT, OT and SLP’s using the horse in a treatment approach based on principles of classic hippotherapy.