What Is Hippotherapy?

Hippotherapy, a treatment tool utilizing the movement of a horse, is medically oriented to address sensory, motor, and perceptual deficits. It is used to treat individuals with acquired and developmental disabilities.

Please Note: Hippotherapy is a professional medical/clincal discipline which is distinct from Therapeutic Riding.

The important characteristic is that a licensed therapist (occupational, physical, or speech therapist) is providing hands on intervention and assessment as to how the patient is responding, making adjustments where needed, and documenting results, which makes it very different from therapeutic riding, which is a leisure activity teaching someone with a disability to ride a horse. All three professional organizations (AOTA, AHSA, APTA) have published articles and recognize the use of the horse as a treatment tool by professionally trained/registered therapists. Treatment that is functionally relevant, like Hippotherapy, more readily establishes transfer out of the therapy setting. Hippotherapy as a treatment tool has been used for over 30 years in several countries around the world.

In 1997, at the Ninth International Riding Congress, a conceptual framework for Hippotherapy was presented to 700 people, representing 31 countries by the American Hippotherapy Association. These eleven points are briefly summarized:

1. Neural plasticity and Self-Organization – Hippotherapy can move a client beyond the point where traditional tools have plateaued by accessing the central nervous system in a new way and new movement strategies promotes modification, reorganization, and enhanced movement capabilities.

2. Control Parameter-The movement of the horse’s back transmitted to the patient can be a control parameter for upright sitting.

3. Preferred Patterns of Behavior – Hippotherapy creates an instability in old patterns of behavior and encourages the emergence of new motor and alertness patterns.

4. Rhythmicity and Entrainment-The movement of the client and the horse becomes coupled so that they interact and influence one another.

5. Perception/Action – The movement through space, changing support surface, and visual flow provide vestibular, somatosensory, visual information to the client, which is simultaneously integrated and translated into action.

6. Postural Mechanism-The multidimensional movements of the horse provide ample opportunity to explore, contolr, and coordinate posture and movement that in turn influences cognitive and communication function.

7. Arousal-The horse’s movement provides powerful input to the arousal mechanisms of the central nervous system.

8. Motivation-Hippotherapy provides motivation through the demands of the task and the interaction in an interesting, enjoyable environmement.

9. Variability of Practice and Problem Solving-During treatment the therapist varies the direction, speed, or amplitude of the horse’s movement challenging the client to actively participate.

10. Adaptability-The dynamic nature of hippotherapy encourages the individual to continue to explore, select, and adapt appropriate movement strategies relatice to the changing context.

11. Function in Multiple Environmments-The development of adaptability assists in promoting functional performance in other environments.

Stable Possibilities, LLC specifically utilizes Hippotherapy, along with the patient’s clinical treatment, to provide the most dynamic and productive treatment for our clients. The active and symmetrical movements of the horse provides the correct approximation of gait, facilitates more integrative perceptual motor skills, and provides the input into vestibular, tactile, and proprioceptive systems simultaneously.


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P.O. Box 388
Washington Twp, MI  48094

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