Equine-Assisted Therapy (EAT) is physical, occupational, or speech therapy that may incorporate equine movement, non-mounted activities, and the equestrian environment.
Hippotherapy (HPOT) 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, hippotherapy is part of a patient’s integrated plan of care. Hippotherapy is derived from the Greek word “hippo,” meaning horse.
The therapists do not teach riding skills; rather the therapy goals are geared towards functional independence with activities of daily living and increased participation in family, school and community life as well as acquisition of age-appropriate developmental skills.
How do the different therapy disciplines use hippotherapy?
Physical Therapy: The physical therapist can overlay a variety of motor tasks on the horse’s movement to address the motor needs of each patient and to promote functional outcomes in skill areas related to gross motor ability such as sitting, standing, and walking. Treatment may focus on developing balance by improving core stability to stay centered on the horse. Postural improvements occur as patients use their muscles to maintain an upright position on the moving surface. The movement of the horse influences movement of the pelvis and spine in a multi-dimensional pattern and positioning on the horse can help improve range of motion, strength, posture, and postural control.
Occupational Therapy: The occupational therapist is able to combine the effects of the equine movement with other standard intervention strategies to work on fine motor control, sensory integration, feeding skills, play skills, attention and self-regulation skills, and functional daily living skills in a progressively challenging manner. The horse is incorporated into treatment through using movement, ground activities, and relationships with the horse.
Speech Therapy: Speech/Language therapy patients’ neurological systems responsible for speech and language skills are impacted by the movement of the horse. The speech-language pathologist utilizes the movement of the horse to facilitate improved respiratory function, breath control, and oral-motor function. These effects are combined with standard speech and language intervention techniques to target articulation, fluency, and auditory processing. Using the natural environment, the therapist also addresses expressive language, receptive language, and social pragmatics.
Often hippotherapy treatments allow for greater quantity of treatment target per intervention by reducing the amount of time a therapist spends gaining the patient’s attention and modifying behavior.
How does the horse’s movement help?
The movement of the horse creates a multi-sensory experience that is controlled by a skilled horse handler under the direction of the licensed therapist. The horse's stride provides multi-dimensional movement, which is variable, rhythmic, and repetitive. The horse provides a dynamic base of support, making it an excellent tool for increasing trunk control, balance, postural strength, weight bearing, and motor planning. It offers well-modulated sensory input to vestibular, proprioceptive, tactile, and visual channels. When a client is sitting on the horse, the horse’s walking gait facilitates movement responses remarkably similar to the human gait. This movement cannot be duplicated in traditional clinical settings. The effects of equine movement on postural control, sensory systems, and motor planning can be used to improve coordination, timing, grading of responses, respiratory control, sensory integration, and attention. Equine movement is used to facilitate body systems that support our daily living skills.
Improvements in all of these areas can result in increased independence with activities such as walking, dressing, communicating and playing.
How do I sign up for hippotherapy?
Strides has been a community partner with Kadlec Therapy Services since 2014 to offer hippotherapy to Tri-Cities, WA. The hippotherapy program is led by Keely Bowen, a doctor of physical therapy and hippotherapy clinical specialist. Meagan Goodnight and Stacy Ferguson complete the treating physical therapy team. Meagan has a masters in physical therapy and practiced hippotherapy treatments in Scotland prior to treating her patients at Strides. Stacy is a physical therapy assistant.
At this time, physical therapy is the only service at Strides that offers hippotherapy as a treatment strategy. We recommend that you ask your primary care physician for a (PT, SLP, or OT) "evaluation and treatment" prescription to send to Kadlec therapy services if you are not already a patient in the Kadlec therapy services. When you call to make your evaluation please ask for a therapist that is qualified to assess you or your loved one for hippotherapy. Please understand, however that not everybody is appropriate to partake in hippotherapy for safety reasons; please review the list of precautions and contraindications in the dropdown menu in the header.