5 Uses for Hippotherapy

Equine-assisted treatment is a promising intervention for many disabilities including the following five uses for hippotherapy.

Therapeutic horseback riding involves utilizing the movements of the horse, the bond that riders form with the animal and the sensory input of the environment combined with therapeutic methods to help the riders improve their conditions. Horses must be specially trained to respond in change of gait and other commands and have a stable disposition that can withstand sudden noises and movements. The physical, occupational and speech-language therapists that employ the intervention must be specially trained as well.

Hippotherapy has proven useful in emotional and in physical deficits like these five examples:

Cerebral Palsy and Multiple Sclerosis

These conditions are marked by reduced ability to control muscle movement. A study quoted in Well Blogs of equine-assisted therapy use with these disabilities showed that there seemed to be increased control over body movements after as few as ten sessions. This may be due to the repeated and targeted motion of the horse gait. Therapeutic horses take about 100 steps every minute. Each step moves the rider’s pelvis forward and back again in response, and requires the rider to work against the motion to stay upright on the horse. Therapists combine this motion with other exercises like reaching to put rings on poles to further improve muscular function.


This condition is characterized by many disabilities and levels of impairment. Autistic children have little concept of their bodily reactions to other stimuli. The movements they must make and the way they must orient their bodies to accommodate the horse’s gait makes them more aware of their physical reactions. In addition, many autistic children are non-verbal or language-impaired and the excitement of being on a horse makes them want to communicate with therapists and others so it encourages speech. Another benefit for autistic children who have difficulties in building relationships is the bond they form with the animal.


These disorders involve an inability to focus attention on one thing and to give an appropriate response. The horse’s movements stimulate the central nervous system in people with these disorders, and help them direct their attention to the task of riding. The repetitive motions are soothing, and put the rider in a relaxed state that is more receptive to suggestions and teaching moments. It also improves balance and coordination for these patients.


According to the Speech In Motion blog, people with apaxia know what they want to communicate but are unable to translate those ideas into sounds and words. The condition is not muscular, but a difficulty in processing. The repetitive nature of the horse’s gait helps patients focus as a therapist moves their cheeks or lips to form sounds. The patient may, for instance, repeat the sound “ga” over and over with the horse’s steps and this can approximate the word “go,” so the task has a context.

Traumatic Brain Injury

People who have experienced a traumatic brain injury may be unable to initiate movement because of processing difficulties or they may have muscles that are atrophied. The response of the body to the horse steps is similar to the motion used in walking so it helps retrain the brain to make those movements and strengthens the muscles through repeated use. In addition, therapists introduce therapies during the session that improve poor balance and other impairments. The sensory stimulation of being in a different environment with unusual smells, sights and sounds is beneficial to the patient who can buffer this input with the soothing motions of the horse.

Therapists are discovering more uses for therapeutic horseback riding in treating their patients. Hippotherapy is an intervention that is part of a multifaceted approach to improving physical and mental impairment.

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