website should not
be construed as medical or therapy advice and is provided only as
general information. Please consult your physician and other health
professionals for specific advice. All ideas reflect
the creative spirit of the author, Barbara Smith OTR/L and bear no
relationship to her current employer. Hippotherapy should only be performed
by trained and registered occupational, physical and speech
about how occupational therapists used the horse as an art
medium-as well as therapeutic tool at a special needs camp. Advance
used water-based, nontoxic, tempera finger paint mixed with horse
shampoo. According to Terrie King, LOT, Panola College OTA program
faculty member- "We care for our horses very much at camp and consider
them a co-therapist deserving of all the rights of any living
being." In fact, "King added, "the horses actually seem to enjoy
is vaulting? Vaulting is exercise or gymnastics
performed on the back of a
moving horse. Someone other than the rider is controlling the horse.
This YouTube video
demonstrates vaulting- it is not hippotherapy!
Do therapists use vaulting
activities in hippotherapy? Yes.
Vaulting is commonly performed
during both therapeutic riding instruction and hippotherapy treatment.
It is suitable for riders with mild physical disabilities, sensory
processing and motor control deficits, attention deficit disorders,
autism and young
children with developmental delays.
Vaulting may be used to improve the
Motor planning skills
during hippotherapy may involve:
Holding arms out in extension
Holding quadruped position (on hands and knees)
Flag and half flag positions
Standing on top of the horse
Photo is property of Horsetalk and may not be used without
position involves extension of one leg and the opposite arm.
During half flag the leg is extended and the hands grasp the handle for
Photo is property of Horsetalk and may not be used without
Kneeling may be maintained facing forward, backward or sideways.
Extending the arms helps the rider maintain balance.
Performing hand activities while in kneeling further challenges balance
and promotes coordination, postural stability and motor planning
Photo is property
and may not be used without permission
Standing on top of
the horse is a challenge with horse stationary,
walking or trotting.
Maintaining arms in extension (sometimes called "airplane" position)
develops shoulder strength and balance. This is even more challenging
as the child sits on the horse's withers facing backwards. Sitting on
the withers creates a smaller area for sitting, requiring more balance
and the impact of the horse's movement increases sensory stimulation.
quadruped on hands and knees is a wonderful position to develop
and coordination. Putting weight on the hands helps to normalize
muscle tone and the trunk muscles work hard to hold this position.
Quadruped may be held while facing forwards or backwards.
Some photographs have been altered to
protect the identify
of children and facilities.
refers to a medical
of the horse to promote neuro-
physical and speech therapists use
the horse as a treatment tool to improve posture, strength,
balance, equilibrium reactions, coordination and
communication. It is not a method to teach
The term "therapeutic riding" encompasses
all aspects of using the horse
who have physical and/or
This term is all-inclusive and may
activities on or off the horse. The individual is taught
not only specific riding skills,
but also skills performed off
the horse such as grooming
therapies involve a
relationship between rider and
give unconditional acceptance and many riders
express their appreciation by hugging, patting or
kissing their ponies. Occupational therapists may
do both hippotherapy
on the horse and therapeutic activities such
as following directions
to put on a helmet and
gait belt before riding.
treatment different when the
an occupational, physical or speech
occupational therapists both
use the horse to achieve
goals such as increasing trunk control,
muscle tone, independent
(to not fall over
when the center of gravity changes) and
Holding a hoop helps this child to open up the chest
and breath deeply. This contributes to postural
control and speech. Occupational
therapists focus on goals related to
The horse provides strong tactile (touch),
vestibular (movement) and proprioceptive
(deep pressure to joints and muscles)
stimulation that organizes the child's
child above is receiving sensory input from the horse's
movement as well as touch from the ball and deep
pressure to joints as he holds it on his head while moving.
The therapist is promoting bilateral hand use and motor
planning as he moves the ball in different ways.
therapists focus on using fine-motor
activities that develop postural
control and eye-hand coordination. Since
this child cannot hold onto the handle
support while placing rings on the stack
she must use her
trunk muscles to maintain her posture
for the ring on her pony's ear
promotes balance, range of motion and
therapists also use fine-motor
activities such as attaching clothespins
to the mane to strengthen hands and
Children receive tactile (touch)
stimulation input when hugging
the pony facing forward,
while lying over the horse's barrel.
Toys such as puff
balls that are fun to squeeze and pull provide
great tactile and proprioceptive sensory input to the
Occupational and speech therapists often have
related to following directions and communicating with either
gestures, verbalization, signs, pointing to pictures or a
combination. The hippotherapy situation often motivates
the child to communicate "go" and "whoa" and choose
which direction to ride the horse. The above pictures can
be used by a child to communicate that she wants to go
left to the meadow or go right to see the horses in the arena.
Children can also communicate these choices by
approximating the word sounds, steering with the reins,
pointing or looking in the chosen direction.
Children can make a choice by pointing to
picture of a
desired activity or be asked to follow directions to
remove a specific picture
before performing the task.
Occupational therapists use activities to help the child
attention to tasks and cognitive awareness.
Activities to work on these skills
Looking at a
picture of flowers and then
finding them on the trail
Holding arms out to the side in "airplane"
position. This girl is holding plastic bottles
filled with water. They are not only fun, but
help make the child more aware of where
arms are and how they are moving.
exercise sequence such as
"make arm circles, touch the mane and touch
body parts on a doll or picture
Photo is property of Horsetalk
and may not be
used without permission
How does the movement of the
therapist achieve therapeutic goals?
multi-dimensional movement of the horse
produces pelvis and spinal movement
in the rider that is similar to the
movement required in human gait.
pelvis moves forward and backward,
side to side and in rotation.These
movements not only allow non-ambulatory
riders to experience sensations similar
to walking but also helps children to develop the balance,
postural control and sensory integration that typical children
develop through everyday play and other movement activities.
refers to the amount of
resistance to passive
stretch or movement. Muscles may have low tone and
move very easily or high tone which is less easy to stretch.
How does hippotherapy affect muscle tone?
movements that are rhythmic,
smooth and regular
relax muscles much the way a cradle rocks a baby to sleep.
These movements may also be preferred by children who
are easily overstimulated.
Horse movements that are jerky,
involve frequent "stop and go" movements increase
muscle tone and raise the child's arousal level much the
way jumping on trampoline or bouncing on a Hippity Hop
Why do therapists place the child
positions such as side-sitting, facing backwards
or lying down?
Photo is property
not be used without permission
Different position vary the
hip range of motion, pelvic tilt and muscles
being strengthened. Facing backwards
provides a bigger stretch to the legs. Putting weight on
the hands helps children to tolerate touch and improve
hand use. Some children can perform
push-ups while facing
to strengthen trunk and upper extremities.
backwards also provides a large
surface for upper extremity weight
bearing or an activity such as a
while facing sideways facilitates
shifts and increases balancechallenges.
Performing squat to stand repetitions
strengthens trunk and
leg muscles and improves postural control and balance.
child prone (on the
belly) over the horse's barrel
relaxes spastic muscles and
provides strong sensory input.
The supine position (lying down
on the back)
horse's rump also provides total weight -
bearing to the body, facilitates equilibrium responses,
elongates the rib cage and provides strong sensory
stimulation. Some children can
perform sit-ups in this
position, strengthening belly muscles.