Hippotherapy can be used to address a wide variety of speech and language goals (see my blog on Hippotherapy as a Speech Therapy Treatment Strategy). Virtually any goal that a Speech Therapist works on in a clinic setting can also be addressed using hippotherapy as a treatment strategy. Addressing these goals on the moving horse often enhances the results. Here are a few ways how a therapist may use hippotherapy to address Receptive and expressive language deficits.
The farm environment is a language rich environment with endless possibilities. It is easy to incorporate receptive and expressive language goals into a patient’s hippotherapy session. There are many opportunities for working on basic to advanced receptive expressive language skills. Targeted objectives might be early skills such as producing vocalizations. The goals may include using gestures signs and pictures to communicate, or they might be more advanced and focus on improving the patients ability to ask and answer complex questions and follow multi-step directions.
Use of both high and low tech communication devices can be incorporated into therapy sessions. The horse and the equine environment motivate patients to use these systems to communicate.
Goals and objectives can also be targeted using pictures and items that can be attached to the equipment on the horse using velcro. This is a great way to work on vocabulary, basic concepts, following directions, and a myriad of other receptive and expressive language objectives objectives. You can hide the items around the farm and have the patient find the items while they are on the horse. The possibilities for language and interaction are endless.
Games like “treasure hunt”, “I spy”, and “Simon Says” are easily incorporated into a hippotherapy session. Typically in a speech session in a clinic, there is 1 patient and 1 adult. Due to the nature of hippotherapy, the patient has opportunities to interact with an entire treatment team including a horse handler and sidewalker as well as with any other people who he or she may cross paths with during the session. This provides additional opportunities for interactions in a naturalist way.
Hippotherapy provides sensory input helping to organize and focus the patient. Patients who are more “organized” are better communicators as they are better able to attend to speech and language. In addition hippotherapy helps build core and trunk support which in-turn effects breath support and helps with timing and coordination. These are important in the production of speech.
© 2012, Tina M. Rocco, M.A. CCC-SLP, HPCS. All rights reserved.