Hippotherapy is a form of physical, occupational and speech therapy in which a therapist uses the characteristic movements of a horse to provide carefully graded motor and sensory input.
Derived from the Greek hippos (horse), “hippotherapy” literally refers to treatment or therapy aided by a horse. The concept of hippotherapy finds its earliest recorded mention in the ancient Greek writings of Hippocrates. However, hippotherapy as a formalized discipline was not developed until the 1960s, when it began to be used in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland as an adjunct to traditional physical therapy.
In the United States, the American Hippotherapy Association (AHA) offers education to therapists, promotes research in equine assisted therapy and provides continuing education courses.
The role of the horse
The horse’s pelvis has a similar three-dimensional movement to the human’s pelvis at the walk. This movement provides physical and sensory input which is variable, rhythmic and repetitive. The variability of the horse’s gait enables the therapist to grade the degree of input to the patient and use this movement in combination with other treatment strategies to achieve desired therapy goals or functional outcomes. Opi:
otherapy 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. The effectiveness of hippotherapy for many of these indications is unclear, and more research has been recommended. There is a lack of scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of hippotherapy in the treatment of autism.
Occupational therapists providing hippotherapy utilize the movement of the horse to improve motor control, coordination, balance, attention, sensory processing and performance in daily tasks.
Hippotherapy has also seen use in speech and language pathology.