Hippotherapy is a form of physical and occupational therapy in which a therapist uses the characteristic movements of a horse to provide carefully graded motor and sensory input. The movement of the horse is a means to a treatment goal when utilizing hippotherapy as a treatment strategy.
Occupational therapists providing hippotherapy utilize the movement of the horse to improve motor control, coordination, balance, attention, sensory processing and performance in daily tasks. The reciprocal multi-dimensional movement of the horse helps with the development of fine motor skills, visual motor skills, bilateral control and cognition as well. Sensory processing via hippotherapy simultaneously addresses the vestibular, proprioceptive, tactile, visual and auditory systems. The occupational therapist incorporates the movement of the horse, hippotherapy, to modulate the sensory system in preparation for a therapy or treatment goal that leads to a functional activity.
Physical therapists who have had training in hippotherapy may incorporate the multi-dimensional movement of the horse to achieve gait training, balance, postural/core control, strengthening and range of motion goals. Improvement in gross motor skills and functional activities for developing children with disabilities has been reported. Impairments are addressed through the variability of the horse’s movement by modifying the rhythm, tempo and cadence of the horse’s movement.