The word "hippotherapy" comes from the Greek word hippos meaning "horses".
It is a form of physical speech-language and occupational therapy using horses in a non-clinical setting.
It is an evidence-based treatment that utilizes equine movement in a therapeutic way to help improve quality of life and engage sensory, motor and cognitive systems to achieve functional outcomes for both children and adults. It is usually combined with other therapies as part of an overall plan to address the treatment of any patient's needs.
In recent years, hippotherapy has been used to treat patients with developmental delays, language and sensory processing disorders, autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, depression, genetic disorders and cognitive disabilities such as brain or spine injuries.
Why horses and how does it work?
It's all about movement. A horses pelvis shares the same three-dimensional planes as the human pelvic meaning the movement is multi-dimensional and it provides system-wide impact.
On average, a horse walks at a rate of approximately 100 steps per minute meaning 15 to 30 minutes of equine movement represents 1500 to 3000 neuromotor inputs to a child.
Horses, or in some cases ponies, are carefully chosen by therapists to suit a child's needs and they must meet specific criteria regarding training, movement, quality and overall temperament.
Hippotherapy combines different patterns, riding postures and speeds to provide the exact sensory and neurological input to a child's needs.
How much does it cost?
Hippotherapy varies between €80 to €120 per session, usually lasting thirty minutes at a time. It is carried out with a licensed therapist certified in hippotherapy and usually takes place in an accredited riding school alongside the help of trained volunteers and/or other therapists.
What are the benefits of hippotherapy?
Some of the many physical benefits of hippotherapy include improved respiratory control and breath control required for the functions of speech, enhanced balance and strength, improved fine and gross motor skills, trunk core strength, control of extremities and supports sensory regulation.
Cognitive benefits include visual coordination, improved attention and understanding of visual cues, tactile responses and sensory input.
Other benefits include enjoyable interactions with animals, improved self-esteem and social interaction.
In a nutshell, hippotherapy is not learning to ride a horse as many would assume - it is simply a therapy using equine movement to work towards functional goals for adults and children as young as two years of age with additional needs.