What is Hippotherapy?
Hippotherapy comes from the Greek word hippos meaning horse. As per the American Hippotherapy Association: “The term hippotherapy refers to how occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech-language therapy 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 client’s integrated plan of care.”
In simpler terms; At Sensational Kids our specially-trained occupational therapists in the skilled use of hippotherapy; apply the movement, rhythm, and repetition of the horse and the equestrian environment as a treatment strategy to help children achieve their individual therapeutic goals.
Hippotherapy is aligned with a medical model to address medical needs of clients, as prioritised, after comprehensive assessment, to achieve there functional goals despite body systems dysfunctions and limitations.
The Hippotherapy Conceptual Framework is based on:
- Dynamic Systems Theory
- Sensory Integration Theory
- Ecological Theory
- Motor Learning
- Neuroplasticity / Neurodevelopment
Why might a therapist incorporate hippotherapy as part of the treatment plan?
Why the Horse?
- It’s all about movement! The multidimensional movement of the horse provides systems-wide impact on human neurophysiology.
- The sensory and motor input is coupled and highly organised
- The horse movement is rhythmic, low amplitude, consistent, and can be sustained over time
- Children learn through movement and play. Evidence Based Practice supports Motor, Sensory and Cognitive benefits of hippotherapy
- The horse’s pelvis shares the same three-dimensional planes as the human pelvis: front to back, side to side, and rotation
- This transmitted through the child creates symmetrical weight shifts and rhythmical motion of their pelvis with consequent optimal opportunity for the child to engage in coordinated, balanced body movements that are multi-dimensional.
- Through all of this dynamic non compensatory movement patterns, postural control is developing and also the diaphragm is being activated, facilitating breath control for regulation and functional speech.
Why the Equine Environment?
- The equestrian environment is a real life environment where skills learned are transferable to other real world environments i.e generalisation. Consider for example horse care- brushing/grooming- creates discussion, awareness and motivation for the childs own self-awareness and selfcare.
- The environment offers sensory regulation opportunities by engaging in calming “heavy work” tasks
- Opportunities to develop cornerstones for functional success like bilateral integration are plenty in this environment including using a wheelbarrow and filling water buckets!
In short: The dynamic movement of the horse combined with the dynamic environment leads to functional change.
What medical conditions have been shown to benefit from hippotherapy?
Evidence based practice shows therapists successfully incorporated hippotherapy for clients with numerous conditions, including; cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorder, spina bifida, Down syndrome, developmental delays, multiple sclerosis (both remitting-relapsing and chronic-progressive), traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), incomplete spinal cord injuries, stroke (adults and children) and Parkinsons disease
Motor benefits include improvements in
- Control of extremities
- 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
- Muscle tone and strength
- Range of motion
- Respiratory control
- Trunk/core strength
- Visual motor
Cognitive benefits include advancements in
- Arousal level
- Expressing thoughts and needs
- Problem Solving
- Sequencing and planning
- Generalisation to other environments
Sensory benefits include positive effects on
- Body awareness
- Limbic system function related to arousal, motivation, and attention
- Social interaction
- Sensory Systems integration; Proprioception, Vestibular, Tactile sensory input and organisation; along with Auditory, visual and olfactory inputs and organisation.
Who facilitates a session incorporating hippotherapy?
Each Hippotherapy session is facilitated by:
- An occupational therapist who is specially trained to incorporate hippotherapy; i.e. horse movement and the equine environment into occupational treatment plans. Therapists have complete additional specialist training in the USA by The American Hippotherapy Association.
- A Horse Handler who leads the horse and grades the movement of the horse as per therapist instruction.
- Side walkers who walk along with the child offering safety supports as or if required.
Sensational Kids Occupational Therapist’s Considerations for incorporating Hippotherapy
- Hippotherapy is available to children over 24 months of age
- The child/adolescent should not be heavier than 10 stone
- Suitability for incorporating hippotherapy into a child’s treatment plan will be discussed at parent consultation appointment and assessed after initial meeting of the child/adolescent in the clinic setting
How Much Does it Cost?
Costs are subsidised by donations and fundraising to cover the high costs of providing this unique and valuable specialist service.
Each hippotherapy session costs €160 which includes costs to hire the area and horses, but is subsidised by fundraising and donations to €100 per session.
Why Choose Hippotherapy at Sensational Kids?
The Service is managed and delivered by our CORU Registered Occupational Therapists who have additional specialist training and accreditation in Hippotherapy from the American Hippotherapy Association. Our therapists are active members of the American Hippotherapy Association and continue to invest in specialist CPD training.
Where does Hippotherapy take place?
When incorporating Hippotherapy into Occupational Therapy treatment plans we complete these sessions at;
JAG Equestrian Ltd,
Naas, Co Kildare.
And what do the parents say about Hippotherapy?
Our little girl is thriving due to the extra dimension that Sensational Kids have introduced for children with special needs. Our little girl has developed a rapport with a horse that delights her while she is doing occupational therapy. Her confidence, and her attention span in school is soaring, now she is doing things that she would never do.
The relationship that she has developed with the horse, her Occupational Therapist has reached stratospheric heights and added a new dimension to untapped potential.
I can only thank Sensational Kids from the bottom of my heart. I feel very positive and happy about her future. I know there are endless possibilities.
Our little girl is reading, writing and doing math, she is intrinsically happy and knows if she works hard that her friend “Fabia” (her horse) and her get a play date that every week is a rigorous physical and occupational therapy session veiled in fun, craic and joy. The key is that it is intrinsically motivating her to soar new heights………..
Hippotherapy is utterly amazing, transforming and an untapped resource that these special children deserve……….crave and need very much.
Thank you so much Sensational Kids.
Although my son, almost 5, was excited to try hippotherapy I know he is often nervous in new situations and I was unsure how he would react with the horse. I didn’t have to worry, as Natalia explained everything to him in a child centred and calm way. Along with the relaxed but confident manner of horse handlers, and of course Beppe the lovely horse himself, my son was calm and relaxed straight away.
I think the organised structure to the session really helped him respond well to the session and get the most from it. Natalia had many tasks prepared, working on different areas including both fine and gross motor skills which my son really enjoyed and I could see him trying new things without even realising it.
He really felt he had accomplished something and was delighted to be a little cowboy! We look forward to building on this in the next session
How To Make Appointments for Hippotherapy at Sensational Kids
To make an appointment for Hippotherapy phone Sensational Kids Monday – Saturday 045 520900
For Sensational Kids Service Locations & Price List Click Here