When seeking a therapist to provide hippotherapy consider the following:
- Do I want to work with an Occupational Therapist, Physical Therapist, or a Speech Language Pathologist? The type of the therapist that you choose to work with should depend on what your or your child’s needs are. Therapists who use hippotherapy as a treatment strategy work to improve functional skills and set therapy goals. Patients are not taught horseback riding skills. Many patients transition to riding lessons after meeting therapy goals. To find a therapist in your area click here. If you are seeking riding lessons rather then therapy it is best to contact an Adaptive Riding program (also known as a “Therapeutic Riding” Program) and work with a specially trained riding instructor.
- How much experience does the therapist have in their field? The equine environment and horses are an excellent addition to treatment sessions. The therapist’s clinical skills and experience in diagnostics and treatment will carry over into this environment. The therapist should have experience in their field and more specifically, in the area that you would like addressed. For example, if you would like to work on sensory needs for your young child, it is best to choose an occupational therapist with training and experience in pediatrics and sensory integration therapy. Using hippotherapy requires that the therapist understands the sensory, motor and communication impacts that equine movement will have on a patient.
- Does the therapist have extensive experience in working with horses? Horses are animals with a mind of their own. It is critical that the therapist providing hippotherapy have extensive experience in working with horses and understanding equine behavior. Even the best therapy horses have “off days”. It is crucial for the therapist to recognize when a horse is not comfortable and to be able to determine what the cause of the problem is and address it accordingly. Therapists who do not have extensive experience working with horses must be sure to carefully select a knowledgeable horse handler who can help make decisions about the horse’s behavior. This is important for the safety of all involved. In addition to understanding equine behavior, the therapist must have an extensive understanding of equine movement and be able to select horses based on how they move to most effectively treat their patients. They must understand how to enhance this movement and explain this to their horse handler. The horse essentially is a type of therapy “equipment”. Therapists must be able to recognize when a horse is unsound, just as they should be able to recognize when their equipment in their clinic is not working well. Unsound horses create asymmetrical movement. Hippotherapy is about the movement of the horse. The therapist must identify when a horse is not moving correctly or not moving well.
- Is the therapist trained by the American Hippotherapy Association? What level of training has the therapist obtained in the area of hippotherapy? The American Hippotherapy Association offers course work. The courses include Level I Equine Skills, Level I Treatment Principals, Level II Equine Skills, Level II Treatment Principals, and a variety of concentrated topics such as Long Lining, and Business Aspects. Therapists with extensive experience in hippotherapy may take the Hippotherapy Clinical Specialist exam. Therapists who pass the exam demonstrate a high level of knowledge in the field of hippotherapy. The exam tests the therapist knowledge and understanding of history, theory and research, horsemanship, movement science, application of hippotherapy principals, and program administration. Therapists who pass this exam are considered to be “Board Certified Hippotherapy Clinical Specialists” and are allowed to use the credentials “HPCS” following their name. A list of therapists who are Board Certified Hippotherapy Clinical Specialists can be found here.
To learn more about the therapist in the hippotherapy setting read our blog article Meet The Hippotherapy Team: Part 2- The Therapist
© 2012, Tina M. Rocco, M.A. CCC-SLP, HPCS. All rights reserved.