What is Equine Therapy, Hippotherapy, and Therapeutic Riding?

The use of horses as a therapeutic tool has been documented as far back as the 17th century.  More recently, it began gaining interest around the 1940’s after an outbreak of polio left a tragic and profound need to help those affected by the disease, including Liz Hartel, who, despite having been left paralyzed in both legs from a bout of polio, went on to win an Olympic medal in 1952.

At Manes and Miracles, we are thrilled to provide access to the rapidly growing field of Hippotherapy and adaptive riding!

The stretching and twisting Ellie does at this station help her work on balance, core strength, color recognition, bi-lateral coordination, counting, flexibility, and have some FUN!

What is Hippotherapy?

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

In simpler terms: through hippotherapy, specially trained physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech/language pathologists apply the movement, rhythm, and repetition of the horse as a treatment strategy to help patients achieve therapeutic goals. At our facility, the activity stations throughout our custom sensory track are designed to develop specific motor function, and neurological stimulation to further enhance the growth and development potential of our participants.

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 system-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 rider 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, weaving, uphill and downhill), gaits and speeds (slow walk, fast walk, trot), riding postures (sitting facing forward, sideways or backwards, on hands and knees, lying face-down), and interactive activity stations which are designed to develop particular physical, mental, and emotional skills, our highly trained therapists are able to provide precisely the sensory and neurological input each child will benefit from most.

  At Manes and Miracles, we are dedicated to doing all we can to keep costs affordable in order to be able to provide these services to as many riders as possible.  Many insurances may be used for services through our wonderful therapy partners with just a $10 per session facility-use fee. 

“Really helpful for my daughter with autism. She’s gained a lot of confidence and skills since working with Rachelle. They provide a safe environment for both clients and horses. All that and reasonably priced. What a blessing to our family.”

What is Adaptive Riding?

Hippotherapy is integrated into physical, occupational, or speech therapy and therefore it is part of a one-on-one medical treatment plan.  However, we are thrilled when our clients abilities improve enough that they are able to move on to Adaptive Riding, sometimes also called Therapeutic Riding.  Instructors provide a specialized experience which teaches horsemanship skills tailored to the individual needs and abilities of each client.  Adaptive Riding develops strength, coordination, communication, empathy, skills, confidence and relationship building, and emotional well-being.  Adaptive riding is not covered by insurances.  

What Are the Benefits of Incorporating Horses?

Combining the traditional therapy practices with the use of horses has seen improvements in many ways:

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
  • Flexibility
  • 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
  • Empathy
  • Emotional awareness
  • Stress tolerance
  • Expressing thoughts and needs
  • Self-regulation
  • Timing and grading of responses
  • Understanding of visual cues
  • Visual coordination
  • Confidence
  • Impulse control
  • Problem solving
  • Independence
  • Inter-personal relationships

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