From the Greek word hippos meaning horse; utilizing the purposeful manipulation of equine movement as a treatment strategy to address functional goals

In simpler terms: through hippotherapy, our specially-trained occupational therapists apply the movement, rhythm, and repetition of the horse as a treatment strategy to help patients achieve therapeutic goals.


How does Hippotherapy work?

It’s all about movement. The horse’s pelvis shares the same three-dimensional planes as the human pelvis: front to back (anterior/posterior or flexion/extension), side to side (lateral), and rotation. This movement is multi-dimensional and provides systems-wide neurophysiological impact.

Receiving the movement transmitted by the horse’s pelvis – which results in weight shifts, balance reactions, and core/pelvis motions – helps the kiddos develop the skills – like motor planning, bilateral coordination, muscle strength, balance, visual perceptual, sensory regulation, weight-bearing, timing, and more – so essential for daily life.

In short: The dynamic movement of the horse combined with the dynamic environment leads to functional change.

By applying different combinations of patterns (like circles, serpentines, spirals), gaits and speeds (slow walk, fast walk, trot), and riding postures (sitting facing forward, sitting sideways, on hands and knees, lying face-down, standing), our highly-trained therapists are able to provide precisely the sensory and neurological input each child will benefit from most.


Benefits of Hipptherapy

Physical benefits include improvements in

  • Balance/equilibrium
  • Control of extremities
  • Coordination
  • Endurance
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Fine motor skills such as writing, tying shoelaces, and snipping with scissors
  • Gross motor skills such as sitting, standing, and walking
  • Head and trunk control
  • Postural symmetry
  • Mobility
  • Motor planning
  • Muscle tone and strength
  • Range of motion
  • Respiratory control
  • Transitions
  • Trunk/core strength
  • Visual motor

Cognitive benefits include advancements in

  • Attention
  • Expressing thoughts and needs
  • Self-regulation
  • Timing and grading of responses
  • Understanding of visual cues
  • Visual coordination

Sensory benefits include positive effects on

  • Body awareness
  • Limbic system function related to arousal, motivation, and attention
  • Social interaction
  • Pressure grading
  • Proprioception
  • Sensorimotor function
  • Sensory integration
  • Tactile response
  • Vestibular input

Cannot be replicated

Simulating the proper, three-dimensional pelvic motion of a human pelvis at a walk is a serious challenge. Even in this advanced technological age, there isn’t any equipment that can replicate it.

Fortunately, the movement of the horse’s pelvis at a walk is remarkably similar to a human’s. That’s exceptionally good news for someone who needs help learning how the all parts of the body work together to sit, stand, walk, throw a ball, or play on the playground. Through hippotherapy, the horse serves as a living, breathing template.


Comparing hippotherapy and therapeutic/adaptive riding


What’s the difference? And which is the best fit for my child?

Hippotherapy (the treatment strategy we’re known for) and therapeutic/adaptive riding (an activity we do not offer) are very different, but both have their place. The question is, what are you looking for?

Here’s a brief overview

  • Hippotherapy, because it is integrated into physical, occupational, or speech therapy, is part of a one-on-one clinical treatment. It focuses on specific patient outcomes like being able to crawl, transition from sitting to standing, walk, throw a ball, button a shirt with minimal assistance, or draw a straight line.
  • Therapeutic/adaptive riding is a recreational activity – like basketball, baseball, horseback riding, ballet, or art – that has been adapted for those with special needs. It often takes place in semi-private or group sessions and goals tend to be related to riding skills, confidence- and relationship-building, and emotional well-being.


To the untrained eye, hippotherapy looks quite straightforward, but there’s a great deal going on beneath the surface.

The therapists are considering the conformation and movement of the therapy horses, the treatment strategies performed while on the horse, and the horses’ different gaits and schooling patterns.

It’s a complex but worthwhile puzzle, one that provides fantastic benefits for children.



  • One-on-one physical, occupational, or speech therapy, delivered by a hippotherapy trained  therapist in conjunction with a horse handler and a specially-screened and -trained therapy horse.
  • The goal is for professional treatment to improve neurological functioning in cognition, body movement, organization, and attention levels. The focus is on achieving individual therapeutic goals like sitting up, walking, being able to go up and down steps, or dress and undress independently.
  • A treatment plan is established for each patient and progress is periodically reassessed to determine the need for ongoing services. Treatment, generally occurs year-round until the client meets discharge criteria.
  • Because the horse’s movement is essential to assist in meeting therapy goals, horses are specifically selected for their temperament, size, and the type of movement they provide for the client.
  • There is direct hands-on participation by the therapist at all times. The treating therapist continually assesses and modifies therapy based on the client’s responses.

Therapeutic / Adaptive Riding

  • Recreational horseback riding lessons adapted for individuals with special needs.
  • Completed by a professional horseback riding instructor in conjunction with volunteers.
  • Many people participate in therapeutic/adaptive riding as a recreational activity or for confidence-building. The emphasis is on horsemanship, proper riding position, and rein skills, not functional therapeutic goals.
  • Riding skills are generally taught on a group basis with the instructor responding to the group as a whole in addition to fostering individual success.
  • Horses are selected based on temperament rather than quality of movement.
  • There is occasional hands-on assistance by the riding instructor and/or volunteers, but the instructor usually teaches from the centre of the arena.


Where does Hippotherapy Take Place

Our Hippotherapy Service takes places at Jag Equestrian, Naas, Co Kildare,


Who Will Deliver the Hippotherapy Service

Each Hippotherapy session will be facilitated by a total of three staff members:

  • 1 Hippotherapy Trained Occupational Therapist from Sensational Kids who has completed Hippotherapy Training in the USA
  • Plus two side walkers


Considerations for Hippotherapy

  • Hippotherapy is available to children over 24 months of age.
  • The child/adolescent should not be heavier than 20% of horse’s weight.
  • Suitability for hippotherapy will be assessed at the initial consultation appointment with the occupational therapist.


How Much Does Each Hippotherapy Session Cost

Costs are subsidised by donations and fundraising to cover the high costs of providing this unique and valuable service.

Each hippotherapy session costs €100


How To Make Appointments for Hippotherapy

To make an appointment for Hippotherapy phone Sensational Kids Monday – Saturday 045 520900