The three dimensional movement required for horseback riding serves as therapy for patients with movement impairments. Horseback riding therapy is known as hippotherapy. Hippotherapy is derived from the Greek word “hippos,” which denotes horse. The roots of horseback therapy dates back to 468 A.D. The benefits of hippotherapy include improvement with neurological function and sensory processing. Hippotherapy may be categorized as physical, occupational and speech therapy and is covered by many health insurance companies.
Patients with a diagnosis including cerebral palsy, closed head injury, down syndrome, multiple sclerosis, paralysis, scoliosis, spina bifida, stroke and traumatic brain injury may benefit from horseback riding therapy. In addition to movement, hippotherapy may benefit the patient in areas such as the behavioral, cognitive, communication and psychological. Equine assisted therapy is beneficial for patients with autism, attentional deficit disorder, developmental delay, emotional disorders, hearing impairment, learning deficiencies and language disabilities.
The repetitive, rhythmic and variable gait of a horse may help to improve balance, mobility, muscle control and posture. Horseback riding mimics the patterns of the human pelvis while walking. All of the body’s muscles are engaged with horseback riding either consciously or unconsciously. Therapists work one-on-one with each patient. The therapist may adjust the horse’s gait to meet the individualized needs of the patient. Dramatic improvement may be realized after only a few sessions.
The natural environment contributes to the therapeutic value. Horses are specially selected for temperament and movement. Most children enjoy interacting with horses. Children involved with hippotherapy look forward to their sessions. Equine assisted therapy aids children to articulate emotions, boosts awareness, improves sequential thought processing and increases concentration. The therapy is calming and appropriate behaviors are reinforced. The experience fosters self-confidence through horse interaction and skills gained.
Photo is courtesy of Therapeutic Riding as uploaded by Fort George G. Meade at Flickr’s Creative Commons.