When you think about what kind of therapy will help your child improve their occupational, physical and speech skills, your first thought probably isn’t about hippos. At Building Futures, our specialists use hippotherapy to engage and challenge our patients in a fun setting — but don’t worry, the mighty hippopotamus will not be joining us!
Hippotherapy is the use of horseback riding for therapeutic or rehabilitative treatment. The word hippotherapy comes from the Greek “hippos,” meaning horse, and “therapeuein,” meaning treat medically.
How Does Riding a Horse Help My Child?
Hippotherapy is provided by a qualified occupational, physical or speech therapist as part of your child’s treatment plan. It is a tool used in addition to the other activities your child’s therapist does during their sessions with the overall goal of improving your child’s independence and confidence.
If you have never ridden a horse, you may not realize how much motion they produce for the rider when they walk. In order to stay on the horse and maintain control of its movement, the rider needs to be able to balance and coordinate their own movements. The repetitive motion of the horse gives children the opportunity to practice their balance and postural control in a safe and fun way with the support of their therapist.
But hippotherapy is about much more than balance. It is an effective tool used to improve children’s abilities in the following areas:
- Gross motor skills
- Fine motor skills
In addition to riding the horse, your child will also get practice with following directions and caring for the horse. And one of the best benefits of this technique is that it takes place outside, which focuses the child’s attention outward on the horse, their therapist’s directions, and the nature around them. Getting the attention focused outward like this is an effective way of improving a person’s mood and confidence.
Lastly, the horses we use for hippotherapy sessions are specifically chosen to be calm and tolerant of children. In fact, the horses probably love these sessions just as much as the children do!
Does Hippotherapy Help with Sensory Input Difficulties?
Yes! There are many sensations that your child will experience when they participate in hippotherapy. These include the sights, sounds and smells typical of horse stables and the outdoors. It also includes touch, since riding and caring for a horse is a highly tactile experience. The common sensations your child will encounter include:
- The horse’s coat and mane
- Your child’s helmet
- The saddle
- The horse’s brush
- The reins
The horse’s repetitive motion also provides consistent sensory and motor input, which can help improve sensory processing and neurological function.
Our professional therapists at Building Futures have found that our patients are highly motivated to accept sensory input during hippotherapy because the reward of riding and bonding with a horse is so appealing.
Interested in Hippotherapy for Your Child?
Hippotherapy is a tool used in tandem with occupational, physical and speech therapies, which means it can improve the same conditions that are treated by those therapies. Your child may benefit from hippotherapy if they have:
- Cerebral palsy
- Sensory processing difficulties
- Genetic conditions
- Muscular dystrophy
- And much more
If you are interested in hippotherapy for your child, our therapists will be happy to answer any questions you might have about adding this tool to your child’s current therapy.
Why You Should Choose Us
At Building Futures, we believe that every child deserves the opportunity to become as independent as possible, no matter their circumstances in life. We work to empower children and families every day with encouragement, support and tools to help them succeed in their goals. Our team truly believes that we can help children build a better future for themselves, one step at a time.
If your child is living with a condition that impacts their daily life, we want to help!
Call our office to learn how hippotherapy can help your child achieve more independence and control in their life. You want the best for your child and so do we. The first step toward building their better future is to call and schedule your appointment. Call us today!
Interested in Becoming a Sponsor for the Building Futures Children?
Building Futures Pediatric Therapy has teamed up with a wonderful non-profit organization, Outdoor Wilderness Learning (OWL) Equine Center to provide horses, a leader, and side walkers all needed for the safety of the children. All money donated will go towards the facility fee at the OWL Equine Center. Your donation would take away the financial burden that some of our parent’s face by covering the fee needed to attend these services. When you become a sponsor, you are not only helping children, but you are supporting local business!
For more information, click on the button below.Learn More
I sit in the lobby I can’t tell you I have seen almost every therapist they are very patient sweet loving kind understanding . Their best interest is the kids . They can some times have children more difficult but still show the love of God and and their hearts are so open and love each and every family. I know chase has been blessing to our family Rodney loves him and connects with him well thank you Jesus building futures keep striving to be the best and be more like Jesus and God will bless this company more than you can imagine not to mention how family Amy the recipients they are supper helpful and nice
He loved going to therapy for the post part except on days where he wasn’t in a good mood but was always happy when he came out. He really enjoyed it. He went into speech not being able to communicate with us outside of pointing, he now speaks in sentences for the most part and can ask for help/communicate what he wants & comprehends better when spoken to. I was very pleased. I was always given an update when the session was over and informed about what went on during each session & all questions were always answered. If a change in schedule needed to be made, it was always quick, pleasant and with understanding instead of irritation like most places. I remember the first string of 5 words that he spoke (GreyGrey hit me head again) and when we were able to share this at his next session his therapist (Ms.Simone) joined in the excitement! It was easy to see that the therapists enjoy their time and truly love helping the kids progress & succeed.
PEDIATRIC HIPPOTHERAPY Frequently Asked Questions
Not at all! Hippotherapy isn’t like a horseback riding lesson. Instead, think of the horse as a friendly, therapeutic tool which is always controlled by a trained handler and under supervision by the therapist. In some ways, it’s almost better when the child is starting from scratch. They’re more likely to settle naturally into the gentle rhythmic movements of the horse (which is the heart of hippotherapy). At all times, the horse is being closely monitored and your child is wearing safety gear including a helmet.
The horses we use in pediatric hippotherapy are specially trained and have been chosen for their child-friendly temperaments. The therapist will also factor in your child’s personality when choosing their four-legged partner. If he or she has never been around a horse, they may be a little overwhelmed at first, in which case we work to gently introduce them.
As mentioned, hippotherapy isn’t a horseback riding lesson. However, your child will learn how to safely mount, dismount and sit in a saddle. They’ll experience holding the reins, and the feel of the horse’s mane and coat. Plus, being outside in nature is fun!
In the 1960s, horses were discovered to be a useful tool in various kinds of physical therapy. As the child sits atop the horse, the rhythmic motions that the horse makes while walking offer opportunities for improving balance, strength, reflexes, and coordination. The horse’s natural gait also stimulates activity in parts of the child’s brain.
Children with cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy frequently benefit by adding hippotherapy to other forms of physical or occupational therapy. Hippotherapy helps strengthen their muscles, sense of balance and coordination, and motor skills.
If your child is dealing with autism, sensory processing difficulties, or ADHD, working with one of our specially trained horses may help. Speech, language, and cognition abilities can be improved through hippotherapy. Your child’s ability to focus and maintain self-control increases, as well as their self-confidence.
A typical pediatric hippotherapy session runs about 45 minutes to an hour, once per week. However, your therapist ultimately determines the schedule that will most benefit your child.
Part of a typical session includes work atop the horse. The horse’s movements align with neuromotor inputs to the human brain; your therapist times that work so that your child gets the right amount of healthy stimulation. Not too little, not too much.
Hippotherapy can also include just being around the horse and in the barn. Time spent touching the reins, the horse’s brush, the horse’s mane and coat offers them fun opportunities for sensory exploration. The way in which these two aspects are arranged during the session is carefully planned around your child’s needs; that will affect the length of the appointment.
We’re happy to answer your questions about the exact elements that will make up your child’s appointment and how long each generally takes.
Simply put, hippotherapy will be part of your child’s treatment until the goals we’ve set together are met. The frequency and duration of sessions is set by the therapist. A general guideline is to expect to attend once a week for 30 or 45 minutes to an hour, for a period of three months or more. However, this schedule is very much shaped by your child.
After assessing their needs, the therapist can give you a more accurate picture of how long hippotherapy should be part of their treatment plan.
We closely monitor your child’s progress as that also affects the overall timeframe for treatment. Naturally, we keep you informed every step of the way. If they’re showing improvement towards their goals, you’ll know; if, after a period of time, they’re not, we may recommend something that’s better suited to them. The most important part of any of our therapies is the communication we have with you and your child.
The main thing we stress in all of our therapy treatments is that they’re fun! Plus, almost every child loves animals; horses in particular are fascinating. Of course, their first question about “hippotherapy” will likely involve actual hippos! You can tell them that it’s a very fancy (Greek) word for “horse.” Because the horse is a partner in their therapy, you can describe him/her as a new friend. You can talk about how much fun it will be to visit a barn, to sit in a saddle, and get to know their new friend better.
Some children may think these are horseback riding lessons (they’re not); keep it simple and tell them that they will get to ride on a very “special” horse. They’ll also get to wear a fancy helmet and that helpful grownups will always be there.
The ultimate goal of hippotherapy is to make a child physically stronger, more confident and independent. Again, if they ask “why,” keep it simple.
We’ve spent years guiding children through hippotherapy and can suggest helpful ways for you to handle these conversations.
In this first visit, your child won’t be on a horse; think of it as a “getting to know you” meeting. We’re working to establish a baseline of your child’s present functionality, then create a diagnosis and a potential plan of care. The process involves reviewing their medical history, behaviors, and any precautions we should know about. Because they’ll be outdoors, and around horses and hay, we’ll want to know about allergies and other sensitivities.
We’ll do a few tests to measure their current levels of flexibility and motion, again as part of the baseline information. Then, we put everything together to determine if pediatric hippotherapy would be an effective tool for them. If so, the evaluation will help us craft a custom treatment plan for your child.
Bring all of your questions and concerns; we’re happy to address them!
Hippotherapy stimulates a child’s sensory, cognitive, and neuromotor skills through the natural, rhythmic gait of a horse. It’s proven an effective treatment for kids dealing with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, autism, and certain areas where they might need extra support, including speech issues.
Beyond the physical benefits of hippotherapy, there are many subtle emotional ones, as well. Children who are challenged by communication difficulties find working with the horse gives them satisfying new opportunities to engage. Touching, hugging, feeding, or brushing the horse are non-verbal experiences that can aid in their confidence and social development.
In general, the goals of hippotherapy include achieving:
- Better overall functionality and motor skills
- Increased strength, balance, muscle tone, and coordination
- Improved communication (verbal and non-verbal)
- Greater confidence and independence
However, every child has their own particular needs. We work with you to set the goals most important to you and your child. That way, we can tailor the treatment to be most effective in giving them a better quality of life.
The right schedule for you and your child will be determined by the therapist. However, most hippotherapy sessions take place once a week for anywhere between 30 and 45 minutes, or up to an hour. We’ll carefully adapt the schedule to consider factors like your child’s physical condition, endurance, and the family lifestyle.
Once we’ve completed our initial evaluation and gotten to know your child better, we can be more specific on what will best help achieve your goals.
Your therapist closely monitors progress during Hippotherapy. We’ve generally found that as with any form of physical therapy, consistent sessions of shorter durations work best with our small clients. “More” is not necessarily better.
Keep in mind that hippotherapy is strengthening both your child’s muscles and the neural connections to the brain. Like any form of exercise, you have to build it step by (horse) step. Each session will provide us with more information and help adapt the schedule to be best positioned for progress and results.
Pediatric hippotherapy generally falls under the umbrella of physical, occupational, or speech therapy. It’s considered a treatment tool—versus a procedure or service—for a specific medical diagnosis and most insurance companies will cover it. You’ll need a doctor’s prescription.
However, there are some insurance companies with policy exclusions around the use of animals in the treatment. Plus, you may need to be doing additional forms of physical therapy to have your Hippotherapy sessions reimbursed. It really depends on your insurance plan.
It’s a smart idea to contact your carrier directly to find out exactly what is and isn’t covered, and under what terms. Building Futures can also help. We work with the following carriers and our experienced staff know their way around the process. We’ll get you the information you need.
- Blue Cross Blue Shield
- Aetna Better Health
- AmeriHealth Caritas
- Louisiana Healthcare Connections
- Healthy Blue
- United Healthcare Community Plan
Your most critical role comes at the beginning, as you share your child’s medical history and diagnosis, as well as your goals for him/her. Keeping the therapist informed on how they process new experiences, what motivates them, and how they cope with challenges goes a long way in shaping the therapy to best fit their unique personality. Naturally, if they develop any allergies that they didn’t have prior, let us know right away.
As with any therapy, encouraging your child is important. They’re working hard, so celebrate even the smallest step achieved toward their goals! On that same note, your therapist may give you exercises to do at home that reinforce what’s being accomplished during the session.
We consider you our partner in your child’s treatment, so tell us what you’re observing. That includes both improvements and setbacks to their physical and emotional states. This information helps us continually adapt the treatment so that your child gets the most out of it. If you’re uncertain, reach out to us; we’ve helped parents just like you better understand a little one’s journey in building a better life.