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 Oral Motor, Swallowing and Feeding Difficulties
Traditional oral motor exercises can be incorporated into a hippotherapy session. The movement of the horse enhances the exercises by challenging the patient in different ways.
Vibration, chewy tubes, bubbles and other materials are easily incorporated into the session. Tasks such as lip rounding and retracting can be addressed in functional ways while a patient is on the horse.
The horses movement helps to organize the sensory systems which in turn impacts upon the motor systems. It is believed that hippotherapy helps to improve motor planning deficits (such as those observed in apraxia of speech). As a result of organization of the sensory systems and coordination of the musculature of the face and mouth a decrease in drooling is often noted during and following hippotherapy.
The movement of the horse serves to increase jaw stability. Each time the horse takes a step, the muscles of the patient’s face and mouth are challenged. Position changes can be used on the horse to challenge the patient in different ways. For example, these muscles are challenged in a different way when the patient is sitting backward on the horse and weight bearing on their hands vs. when they are sitting facing forward on the horse.
As a result, feeding skills may improve after hippotherapy. While it is not recommended that patients be fed while on the horse due to choking risks, the motor and sensory benefits from hippotherapy can have a positive effect on feeding skills. Hippotherapy also increases trunk control and stability and head and neck control. These functions are necessary for safe and effective swallowing.
In the case of behavior or sensory based feeding difficulties hippotherapy can be used to help organize and regulate the sensory system and to help children and adults tolerate different textures when hippotherapy is combined with a systematic desensitization to such textures as done using the S.O.S approach to feeding.
© 2012, Tina M. Rocco, M.A. CCC-SLP, HPCS. All rights reserved.