According to the American Hippotherapy Association (AHA,Inc.), the term hippotherapy refers to "how occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech-language pathology professionals use evidence-based practice and clinical reasoning in the purposeful manipulation of equine movement as a therapy tool to engage sensory, neuromotor and cognitive systems to promote functional outcomes. Best practice dictates that occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech-language pathology professionals integrate hippotherapy into the patient’s plan of care, along with other therapy tools and/or strategies."
During a therapy session utilizing hippotherapy, participants focus on therapy goals, not riding skills. For individuals age 6 and up, REACH offers Ability Centered Horsemanship. While offering many therapeutic benefits of equine movement and interactions, the primary focus of Ability Centered Horsemanship is on horsemanship and riding skills.
Why the horse?
The average horse walks at a rate of approximately 100 steps per minute. Just 5 minutes on a walking horse represents 500 neuro motor inputs to the patient. In a typical therapy session, 15 to 25 minutes of equine movement may be incorporated by the treating therapist – which represents 1500 to 2500 neuromotor inputs to the patient.
Incorporating hippotherapy into an occupational therapy, physical therapy or speech language pathology session can serve as a powerful tool for the facilitation of the key neuromotor systems that support function. Skillfully applied equine movement, under the direction of a therapist, can offer the patient the opportunity for complex motor learning. Hippotherapy is combined with other standard therapy tools/strategies in an intervention plan designed to address the treatment needs of the client.
Strength, Muscle Coordination and Sensory Processing used for walking, talking, and the use of fine motor skills for activities of daily living and general attention to tasks have all been shown to be positively impacted by equine movement as a facilitation tool/strategy, when under the direction of a therapist, as part of a larger total plan of care. In additional, increased motivation and participation in treatment and social emotional benefits have been reported.
There is a growing body of peer reviewed clinical research that supports the value of including hippotherapy as a therapy tool/strategy in facilitating positive functional outcomes for a broad range of patients who demonstrate neuromotor and cognitive/communication deficits. (from the American Hipptherapy Association website)