Equine-assisted therapy is a treatment strategy that utilizes equine movement as part of a coordinated intervention program to reach functional goals in the areas of physical, occupational, and speech-language therapy. In contrast, adaptive riding emphasizes the acquisition of riding and horsemanship skills, both on and off the horse, in an effort to achieve physical, emotional, and cognitive goals.
Sitting astride a horse provides patients with repetitive, rhythmic, and variable input via multidimensional movement. In a forward-facing seat, the movement simulates what a normal, predictable human walking pattern should feel like. The repetitive nature of the movement allows the patient ample opportunity to practice and refine balance responses, leading to improvements in core stabilization and postural control. The horse serves as a dynamic base of support, encouraging:
- Increased postural and protective reflexes
- Improved balance
- The building of overall postural support and endurance
- The addressing of weight bearing and motor planning
The movement of the horse also provides sensory input to vestibular, proprioceptive, tactile, and visual systems, thereby facilitating changes in sensory integration and attentional skills. As the horse moves through geometric figures and changes of tempo or gait, the patient must make adjustments to their own posture in order to maintain an upright, balanced position. The movement of the horse cannot be duplicated by any piece of equipment. During a equine therapy session, the patient can be placed in a variety of positions (facing forward, facing sideways in side-sit, facing backwards, lying prone over the barrel of the horse, lying supine over the barrel of the horse, etc.). Each position targets specific cognitive and physical systems.
NCEFT has developed a social story to prepare patients for their first visit to NCEFT. Our social story provides visual support when introducing your child to our facility, and the concepts/skills associated with equine-assisted therapy. By breaking down therapy sessions into easy-to-understand steps and images, we hope to assist your child in understanding each situation and planning appropriate responses. Follow the link to review NCEFT’s social story prior to your child’s evaluation at NCEFT.
Physical Therapy (PT): Physical therapists address gross motor ability by incorporating motor tasks during therapy sessions to achieve functional outcomes in areas such as sitting independently, standing and walking.
Occupational Therapy (OT): Occupational therapists incorporate fine motor tasks and sensory integration strategies to improve feeding, attentional and daily living skills.
Speech-Language Therapy: Speech-language pathologists use equine movement to address the physiological systems supporting speech and language, promoting functional communication and correcting communication disorders.
Learn More About Equine-Assisted Therapy
The American Hippotherapy Association, Inc. recently developed two introductory presentations about equine-assisted therapy, one for families and one for medical professionals (follow the links here or below to view them). The presentations provide information about:
- How physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech/language pathology professionals utilize equine therapy in the context of their clinical practice
- Why the movement of the horse can be used as a therapy tool to help patients achieve functional goals
- The difference between therapy and adaptive riding
- Resources for how to get a family member involved in therapy services incorporating equine movement as a treatment strategy