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You asked? "What's the Difference between Hippotherapy and Therapeutic Riding?"

The Answer:

Hippotherapy is a form of physical, occupational and speech therapy in which a therapist uses the characteristic movements of a horse to provide carefully graded motor and sensory input. A foundation is established to improve neurological function and sensory processing, which can be generalized to a wide range of daily activities.

Unlike therapeutic horseback riding (commonly known as the PATH Therapeutic Riding method) where specific riding skills are taught, Hippotherapy is the movement of the horse is a means to a treatment goal, utilizing the protocol as a treatment strategy. Hippotherapy has been used to treat patients with neurological or other disabilities, such as autism, cerebral palsy, severe arthritis, multiple sclerosis, head injury, stroke, spinal cord injury, behavioral disorders and psychiatric disorders.

Why are horses are used?

  1. Movements of the horse encourage the rider to achieve a proper balance and posture. During a hippotherapy session, the horses movement causes similar movement in the patient. This movement is repeated each time the horse takes a step. Approximately 3,000 facilitatory steps of movement are produced in a 20 minute session using Hippotherapy. This translates into 3,000 opportunities to form a new motor pathway for development.

  2. During ambulation the horse provides a rhythmic movement which stimulates anterior and posterior swinging movements - similar to human gait. The horse’s walk provides sensory input through movement, which is variable, rhythmic, and repetitive. The sensory benefits of equine movement can last for hours or days following as little as 20 minutes of Hippotherapy. The therapist is able to facilitate increased trunk control, stability and breath support through the movement of the horse. The horses walk simultaneously produces the following movement in the patient: Up/Down -- Forward/Back -- Left/Right -- Through space

  3. The horse, and those around, provide the rider a large spectrum of sensory and motor input. The patient receives proprioceptive input, vestibular input, tactile input, auditory input, olfactory input, and visual flow all simultaneously as the horse is moving. The horse also provides warmth.

It is not possible to replicate this in a clinic and is not something you can do at home.

Horseback riding provide effective, and sensory stimulation for its rider through variable, rhytmic, and repetitive movements of the horse. The movement of the horse mimics the normal movements of the human pelvis during walking. Variations in horse gait enable therapist to measure sensory stimulation, and integrate these measurements with clinical therapies so as to arrive at desired outcomes. Meregillano G. Hippotherapy. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am. 2004;15:843–54. [PubMed].

Hippotherapy shortens recovery times, and improves balance and muscle control of the patient. Slow, and rhytmic movements of the horse’s body have therapeutic values, and ensure development of paraspinal muscles. Multifaceted swinging rhythm of a horse gait effects the bones of patient’s pelvic girdle twice more strongly than the gait of a patient. The patients are responding to this entertaining treatment modality with greater compliance, and enthusiasm. Thus, hippotherapy improves balance, mobility, and posture Silkwood-Sherer DJ, Killian CB, Long TM, Martin KS. Hippotherapy--an intervention to habilitate balance deficits in children with movement disorders:a clinical trial. Phys Ther. 2012;92:707–17.[PubMed]

Lee CW, Kim SG, Yong MS. Effects of hippotherapy on recovery of gait and balance ability in patients with stroke. J Phys Ther Sci. 2014;26(2):309–11. [PMC free article] [PubMed]

Park ES, Rha DW, Shin JS, Kim S, Jung S. Effects of hippotherapy on gross motor function and functional performance of children with cerebral palsy. Yonsei Med J. 2014;55:1736–42.[PMC free article] [PubMed]

Ajzenman HF, Standeven JW, Shurtleff TL. Effect of hippotherapy on motor control, adaptive behaviors, and participation in children with autism spectrum disorder:a pilot study. Am J Occup Ther. 2013;67:653–63. [PubMed]

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