Hippotherapy (from the Greek “hippo” meaning “horse”) is a treatment strategy used by a physical, occupational, or speech therapist. The therapist uses the movement of the horse to address challenges the patient has, such as deficits in balance, strength, endurance, coordination, communication, and attention.
The movement of the horse creates a multi-sensory experience that is controlled by a horse handler under the direction of the therapist. The three-dimensional movement imparted to the patient from the horse’s movement creates a pattern that is similar to normal walking in the patient. This movement cannot be duplicated in traditional clinical settings. As a result of the horse’s movement, the patient makes improvements with balance, strength, coordination, and postural control. In addition, the horse’s rhythmic movement and patient’s position on the horse can be changed, to provide specific and regulating input to balance, hearing, visual, skin and joint sensory receptors. Once regulated, patients are able to interact with their environment and have improved shared attention and communication.
Benefits of hippotherapy include improvements in balance, muscle strength, gait, posture and symmetry, joint mobility, sensory processing and motor planning. In addition, this therapy is far removed from a clinic or hospital setting and comes with the rich sensory and emotional aspects of the horse and beautiful farm setting. Improvements in all of these areas can result in increased independence with activities such as walking, dressing and talking.
In addition to the improvements listed above, researchers are now studying the use of hippotherapy in the treatment of neurogenic bladder.
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