What is Hippotherapy

Hippotherapy is a physical, occupational, or speech/language therapy treatment strategy that utilizes equine movement. Specially trained physical, occupational, and speech therapists use this treatment method for clients with movement dysfunction, cognitive impairments, and speech delays. Through strategic positioning of the client on the horse, the horse’s movement influences the client allowing active responses to the movement. The licensed therapist (PT/OT/SLP) directs the movement of the horse, analyzes the client’s responses, and adjusts the treatment accordingly. Therapeutic goals support hippotherapy strategies used as part of an integrated treatment plan to achieve functional outcomes.

What is an integrated treatment plan?

A licensed, specially-trained physical therapist, occupational therapist or speech language pathologist may use a horse as a treatment tool within their therapy session just as they might use a ball, balance beam, therapy ball or toy. Typically an integrated treatment plan consists of split time between time on the horse as a preparatory therapeutic activity and time in the clinic for facilitation of functional activities. The transition from horse to clinic is very important to allow generalization to daily activities and optimize the benefit gained from equine movement.

Who benefits?

Children and adults with physical, cognitive, and mental health needs can benefit.  Some diagnoses commonly treated include:

  • Attention Deficit Disorder
  • Autism
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Down Syndrome
  • Developmental Delays
  • Social/Communication Delays
  • Brain or Spinal Cord Injuries
  • Genetic Disorders
  • Emotional Disorders
  • Hearing Impairments
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Paralysis
  • Scolosis
  • Spinal Bifida
  • Stroke

Are there contraindications for Hippotherapy?

Yes. The American Hippotherapy Association, Inc. (AHA) indicates the following conditions may be contraindicated, but most diagnoses are considered on a case by case basis. Clients must be at least 2 years old.


  • Atlantoaxial Instability
  • Coxa Arthrosis
  • Cranial Deficits
  • Heterotropic Ossification or Myositis Ossificans
  • Joint Subluxation or dislocation
  • Osteoporosis
  • Pathologic Fractures
  • Spinal Fusion, Fixation, Instability, or Abnormalities


  • Hydrocephalus/Shunt
  • Uncontrolled Seizures
  • Spina Bifida, Chiari II Malformation, Tethered Cord,
    or Hydromelia


  • Severe Allergies
  • Hx of Abusive behaviors
  • Exacerbations of
    medical conditions
  • Heart Conditions
  • Hemophilia
  • Medical Instability
  • Migraines
  • Respiratory Compromise
  • Recent Surgeries
  • Weight Control Disorders
  • Indwelling Catheters

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