What is Hippotherapy?
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 to engage sensory, neuromotor and cognitive systems to achieve functional outcomes. In conjunction with the affordances of the equine environment and other treatment strategies or tools, hippotherapy is part of a patient’s integrated plan of care.
Simply put, hippotherapy refers to the use of equine movement (the movement of the horse) as a treatment tool within occupational therapy, physical therapy or speech language pathology treatment. The term hippotherapy originates from the Greek word, “hippos” meaning horse.
What professionals can provide treatment that incorporates hippotherapy?
Hippotherapy can be utilized in as a treatment tool or strategy by occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech language pathology professionals, while working within their scope of practice.
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.
Understanding hippotherapy as a treatment tool/strategy:
It is important for families and healthcare professionals alike to recognize that hippotherapy is provided within standard occupational therapy, physical therapy and/or speech-language therapy services. Hippotherapy is not a separate service or a program. Further, there is no such service as “equine therapy” or “horse therapy and use of these terms is incorrect (see AHA Inc. Terminology document for more information- here). View a free webinar on terminology
Hippotherapy has been regarded as a therapy tool/strategy that can be utilized by occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech-language therapy professionals while working within their scope of practice by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (ASHA). (Link to each letter). For more information on coding and billing related to hippotherapy, see the AHA Inc. Position Statement on Coding and Billing Practices When Hippotherapy is part of plan of care here and view “Use of Hippotherapy in Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy and Speech Therapy” here.