What is it?
What is hippotherapy? It has nothing to do with a hippopotamus. Think Greece. “Hippos” is the Greek word for horse.
Hippotherapy is a treatment strategy that uses horse movement as a physical therapy tool for clients with a broad range of diagnoses, including cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis. Studies show that the gait motion of the horse provides sensory stimulus and movement patterns to the rider that mimic natural movements of healthy humans…
Providing the horse is relaxed under the rider, the movement of the horse can relax the entire body of the rider, freeing up tight and underused areas which are commonplace for those confined to wheelchairs or for those who have difficulty walking.
At Valley Therapeutic where I have been studying the impact I have on clients when playing the violin, part of the session is spent out in the woods on their private trail, weather permitting. Objects are strategically placed in the woods to assist with stretching, touching, and vocalization, and all the while, passively interacting with and reacting to the horse’s movements. Balance and core strength is also improved as hands reach up for objects rather than hanging on. I follow or lead them out, like a Pied Piper, creating musical stories around the found objects.
All lesson plans have intention and outcome. For instance, if a client is collapsed on one side due to cerebral palsy or scoliosis, the direction traveled in the arena will be in the direction that challenges the muscles on the weaker side. Another example: changing positions on the horse can also influence speech production, particularly a sitting-backwards position. Sitting backwards encourages the tongue to recess, decreasing spit production and the likelihood of tongue engagement and, therefore, a greater likelihood of speech/language initiation. The addition of the violin expands and extends the actions arising from these treatment methods.
Riding as Therapy
Ancient Greece: as early as 600 B.C. and later, the Romans recognized the therapeutic value of horseback riding. In Europe, France, in particular, had documented the therapeutic use of horse riding as early as 1875. After World War II, it gained popularity, and was beginning to be prescribed to address mental, physical, and emotional issues (Meregillano, 2004). By the 60’s, riding centers were popping up to help full spectrum diagnosies, such as MS, stroke, Downs, spinal cord injury, ADHD, autism, and CP.
However, there can be crossover into the therapeutic riding sector, especially if riding instructors teach simultaneously in the same space. What is being recognized more and more, is that all therapies are related, and are often interdisciplinary. This is even showing up in the university setting, where speech, occupational, and physical therapy faculties are recognizing the value of checking in with each other, and that it is very beneficial to trade information.
Studies suggest that hippotherapy improves coordination during riding between the rider’s upper and lower trunk, as well as between the rider’s lower trunk and the horse’s back. Additionally, supporters of horseback riding interventions state that the warmth, shape, and rhythmical three-dimensional movements of the horse improve flexibility, posture, balance, and mobility of the rider.
1.Brandon Rhett Rigby, M.S.B.M.E. Mentor: Brian A. Garner, Ph.D., “Comparing the Pelvis Kinematics of Able-Bodied Children During Normal Gait and When Riding a Therapeutic Horse” Retrieved December 3, 2015 from https://baylor-ir.tdl.org/baylor-ir/bitstream/handle/2104/5420/Rhett_Rigby_masters.pdf