Note: Caitlin Hankins has been with Connect the Dots for nearly two years now. We appreciate having her on our team, and enjoy reading her blogs. Here Caitlin offers insight into hippotherapy and its many benefits based on her experience prior to joining us. Enjoy!
Most of my pediatric experience came from my job volunteering and working as an occupational therapy assistant at a hippotherapy clinic. You may be thinking, “What in the world is hippotherapy? Did she say she worked with hippos?” While that would be fun, it’s far from the truth. The word ‘hippotherapy’ comes from the Greek word (hippos) meaning horse. It involves the utilization of the horse as a treatment strategy to achieve functional goals and outcomes.The horse offers countless therapeutic benefits physically, emotionally, and sensorially. The three dimensional movement of the horse is similar to that of a human body. This can help individuals with limited ambulation (walking) capacity experience the feeling of a more normalized gait.
Often people will confuse hippotherapy with therapeutic riding. While both use the horse to create positive change, the difference lies in the approach. Therapeutic riding is run by a certified therapeutic horseback riding instructor along with volunteers. They provide riding lessons that have been adapted for individuals with disabilities. The positive effects of therapeutic riding range across the board from improved postural strength to increased self confidence. However, the emphasis lies more on riding position and rein skills than functional therapeutic goals.
Hippotherapy must be implemented by a licensed therapist (occupational therapist, physical therapist or speech language pathologist) as well as a competent horse handler. In this setting, the movement of the horse is used to reach therapeutic objectives. The goal in hippotherapy is to help individuals increase function in their everyday lives by improving cognitive and physical skills through the use of the horse.
Occupational therapy benefits of hippotherapy include improvement in performance of everyday tasks as well as increased motor control, coordination, balance and attention. Hippotherapy also assists in organizing the sensory system because of the effects on the vestibular, proprioceptive, tactile visual and auditory systems.
I hope you’re now asking yourself, “Where can I get my child enrolled in a program like this?” In the Eugene/Springfield area, there is a fantastic therapeutic riding center called, Rideable:
The nearest hippotherapy facility, Forward Stride, is located in Beaverton, Oregon. Here is the link to their website:
For more information about horse therapy and the differences between hippotherapy and therapeutic riding please visit the following sites: