Hippotherapy is a method of rehabilitation through therapeutic horse riding. It’s a form of therapy where the equine plays a major role.
Hippotherapy is becoming popular nowadays. More and more riding clubs are including hippotherapy in their list of services. But unfortunately, some centers provide rehabilitation classes without consulting doctors. They don’t have professional instructors-hippotherapists or horses specially trained for hippotherapy. Such classes don’t meet the desired purpose and those who visit such a rehabilitation center are unlikely to achieve success.
People who provide rehabilitation services but aren’t professional hippotherapists can’t help people in need duly. There’s a bunch of rules that must be followed strictly in order to achieve the main goal of hippotherapy.
The first and foremost rule is to do no harm. The instructor must have extensive knowledge of medicine, rehabilitation, psychology, and recreation. This will provide quality hippotherapy services. Such traits as patience, kindness, empathy, and ease of communication are also important.
How Hippotherapy Works
Hippotherapy is a series of horse-assisted therapies that are used to cope with the patient’s specific problems. The scope of the therapeutic effects of hippotherapy is rather wide. It includes rehabilitation, educational, psychological, and psychosocial programs.
A hippotherapy professional uses these systems and correlates them depending on the needs of the patient. This requires the instructor to know various developmental disorders, diseases, and their treatment. They must also know the behavior of horses. In turn, the equine must be specially prepared for hippotherapy sessions.
The horse is the most important part of working with a patient. The patient’s role is not to control the animal but to respond aptly. By adjusting their body to the horse’s movements, each step of the equine disrupts the rider’s balance. Thus, they must adapt their own muscles to maintain a position in the center of the horse’s back. Movement, touching the animal, different positions, and exercises allow the patient to achieve a range of goals.
During the hippotherapy session, the patient and the horse become one. The role of the trainer is to analyze the patient’s reactions and adjust the horse’s moves (pace and direction) according to the patient’s needs. The horse, as a therapeutic tool, is unique. In fact, the animal can help to deal with many problems.
Forms of Hippotherapy
Physical, mental, and psychosocial problems in one area may cause the risk of disorders in other areas. When choosing a system of hippotherapy classes, you should understand that. The forms of hippotherapy presented here are not “harsh”. They can all be mixed when taking into account the general characteristics of the rehabilitation course.
The common forms of hippotherapy are the following:
- Physiotherapy on a horse. The horse’s moves, as well as a set of exercises performed on its back, can have a beneficial effect on the patient’s motor abilities. But only if the exercises are selected and performed properly. This form of hippotherapy is usually a continuation or addition to physiotherapy sessions. It’s for people with mobility impairments and problems of orthopedic and neurological origin.
- Psychological and pedagogical horse riding. It enhances the psychological and pedagogical aspects of the patient’s correctional program. Elements of psychotherapy, speech therapy and developing games are also actively used here. In addition to riding, there can be communication with the animal, horse grooming, and working in the stable. This form is good for children and youth. For those with psychological problems, psychomotor developmental delay. As well as emotional disorders, visual and hearing impairments.
- Therapeutic communication with a horse. It’s based on the patient’s emotional bond with the animal. The therapy is ideal for people who cannot balance their inner and outer world around them. This form of hippotherapy helps the patient to establish and deepen relationships with others. In this case, horseback riding is not necessary. Such therapy is applicable to children with difficulties in making social contacts. For those who are in a state of severe social anxiety. As well as patients with autism, psychosis, conduct disorders, and socially unadapted patients.
Benefits of Hippotherapy
- While the horse is walking, it moves the rider’s pelvis. This creates an imitation of a human’s striding. These movements are biomechanically almost identical to the rotational movements of the pelvis. Such moves a person performs while walking. This enables the patient to learn how to step without actually walking on the ground. For people with disabilities, riding a horse in this way is perhaps the only way to use body parts and muscles as they would in normal walking.
- The horse reduces muscle spasticity. If the person’s central nervous system is damaged, it could lead to increased muscle tension (spasticity), especially in the limbs. During the hippotherapy session, this tension is reduced by warming up the muscles as the horse’s body temperature is higher than the body temperature of a human. And by relaxing the muscles during oscillatory calming movements.
- The equine restores the broken symmetry of the core muscles. Thanks to the horse’s movements, the postural muscles of the left and right sides of the rider’s body are alternately tense and relaxed. Weak muscles are getting strengthened. Thus, when the patient is riding a horse, the balance and muscle tone is restored on both sides of their core.
- Horses prevent tendon contractures and limitation of joint motion. While the patient is riding, the horse’s movements make all the patient’s muscles and joints work rhythmically and accurately. First of all, the contracture of the thigh muscles and the limited mobility of the pelvic girdle are reduced.
- The animal stimulates the development of the senses. The horse’s coat and mane, the sounds of hooves, a friendly snort, and a pleasant smell stimulate the development of touch, hearing, sight, and smell. All of these are accompanied by constant movement, the need to restore balance and respond to changes in position.
- It develops a sense of balance. Hippotherapy provides us with unlimited possibilities. Acceleration, deceleration, change of direction, stopping, movement, traversing obstacles, doing exercises, playing in the saddle – these help the patient to improve their sense of balance and coordination.
- The horse improves the functioning of the inner organs. By stimulating the endocrine system, horse riding improves circulation, respiration, bowel function, and even the immune system.
In the Nutshell
Hippotherapy helps patients to interact with the environment and bond with a horse. It stimulates the development of psychomotor skills, improves and balances the emotional state. Hippotherapy is not just a riding lesson, it’s a form of therapy that produces the desired results and helps make people happy. Look for a horse professional that will lead you the whole way.