How do children with special needs benefit from hippotherapy?

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2,000+ opportunities per treatment

Because therapy horses average 2,000+ steps during a typical treatment, hippotherapy gives patients thousands of opportunities to develop and refine balance responses, leading to improvements in core stabilization and postural control. 

Here’s how that might look in a treatment

  • Laying the neurological network for a normal gait pattern by sitting facing forward on the horse.
  • Strengthening motor-planning, timing, sequencing, and bilateral skills by passing rings back and forth with a therapist and sidewalker.
  • Strengthening extremities and refining balance reactions by kneeling or standing on the horse.In all of this, the horse is acting as a dynamic (moving) surface on which the child is being challenged by constantly receiving carefully-graded input.

Cannot be replicated Standing on the horse during physical therapy

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.
 

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

Learn more

“Giving Jonah that sensory input [from the horse] helps him feel calm enough to focus and be willing to try [eating new foods].” 

– Occupational therapist Arin

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