When a horse's movement is transferred to a patient through hippotherapy, it produces a combination of sensory, motor and neurological input that we use to treat a wide variety of diagnoses. Horses create a dynamic, three-dimensional movement that cannot be reproduced in a traditional clinic setting. The gait, or stride of the horse, coupled with the animal's warmth, provide numerous benefits.
Hippotherapy and Autism
The specially trained physical therapists and occupational therapists at Children's TherAplay use hippotherapy to benefit autistic children in numerous ways.
Children with autism typically experience deficits in language, sensory processing and reading social cues. Individuals with high functioning autism, or Asperger's Syndrome, are often very bright and have normal speech development; but may struggle with social skills and sensory issues.
Being on a horse (hippotherapy) addresses many of these needs. The horse provides strong sensory stimulation to muscles and joints, impacts the balance and movement sense detected by sensory receptors, and provides varied tactile (touch) experiences as the rider hugs or pats the horse. Watching the horse and other riders is also visually stimulating, while hearing the hoofs and smelling the barn impact other senses.
The therapist addresses auditory processing and communication goals by asking the rider to follow simple or multi-step directions (such as "turn to face backwards and give me high five") and the rider is encouraged to communicate directions to the horse ("go" or "whoa") by using words or actions (pulling on the reins).
Our kiddos also benefit from special relationships they can develop with their horse. The bond between the horse and the patient encourages the child to form an attachment and interaction with another living being, which is especially difficult for children with autism to achieve.
Our therapies help develop memory and concentration; strength, balance, and coordination; a sense of body-awareness; and improved socialization. And one of the greatest benefits of this type of therapy is the enjoyment kids get out of it. They don't even realize that they are participating in a therapeutic activity - it's just a lot of fun!
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