What is hippotherapy?

Speech Language Pathology in Motion is proud to be an American Hippotherapy Association facility member and adhere to the AHA inc.'s Best Practice Guidelines.  SLPIM is offers speech and language therapy incorporating hippotherapy in Islandia, NY on the property of Pal-O-Mine Equestrian.  

SLPIM is the only speech private practice offering hippotherapy on Long Island NY, as part of a total plan of care.   

According to the American Hippotherapy Association, "the term 'hippotherapy' refers to how occupational therapy, physical  therapy, and speech-language pathology professionals use evidence-based practice and clinical reasoning in the purposeful manipulation of equine movement to engage sensory, neuromotor, and cognitive systems to  achieve functional outcomes. In conjunction with the affordances of the  equine environment and other treatment strategies, hippotherapy is part of a patient's integrated plan of care." 

The term hippotherapy originates from the Greek word, “hippos” meaning  horse (or equine), and roughly translates as "treatment with the help of the horse". 

The movement produced by the horses walk simultaneously produces the following movement in the patient:

Through space

It is not possible to replicate this highly organized movement in a clinic.  

Hippotherapy may be used in speech-language pathology for the following purposes:

  • To increase client motivation and participation in treatment. 
  • To help the SLP target skills such as joint attention, receptive and  expressive language, oral motor abilities, articulation and phonology, breath support, volume/vocal quality, swallowing and speech fluency. 
  • To help the SLP address speech and language deficits through facilitation of the physiological systems that support speech and language functioning.
  • To help a client develop pragmatic language skills through interactions with others and with the horse. 

To learn more about the use of hippotherapy in speech, check out these articles from The Speech in Motion Blog:

To learn about the American Hippotherapy Association's current position on  the use of Hippotherapy by OT's, PT's and SLP's in the United States, click here. 

Best Practice:

Speech Language Pathology in Motion follows the “Best Practice Statements” set by the American Hippotherapy Association and the American Speech Language and Hearing Association.  It is considered best practice for hippotherapy to be included as part of a total plan of care.  It is offered in conjunction with other speech therapy treatment strategies in order to provide the best possible results for our clients.  Practicing skills in multiple environments and during various activities supports generalization of skills and helps our clients make progress faster.  Patients who receive speech therapy incorporating hippotherapy at Speech Language Pathology in Motion are also seen in our Hauppauge clinic and in onsite treatment areas at  the Islandia location as part of their treatment plan.  It is at the therapist’s discretion how often and how long hippotherapy is used, if at all, during each speech therapy session.  

For Best Practice Statements and resources related to hippotherapy visit the American Hippotherapy Association resources page 

Research related to hippotherapy

There is substantial body of research related to the use of animals in therapy.  There are over 50 peer reviewed, published articles specific to the use of hippotherapy in treatment listed on The American Hippotherapy Association bibliography.  In addition, there are numerous articles related to the benefits of animal assisted therapy.  According to the Human Animal Bond Research Institute,  "people are happier and healthier in the presence of animals.  Scientifically-documented benefits of the human-animal bond include  decreased blood pressure, reduced anxiety, and enhanced feelings of well-being." Research related to animal assisted therapy and hippotherapy show evidence of the following:

  • Improved postural stability
  • Increased motivation
  • Improved participation
  • Increased adaptive behaviors
  • Improved motor control
  • Improvements in muscle symmetry
  • Improved social-emotional behavior
  • Increased social awareness
  • Increased social skills and behaviors
  • Increased display of social behaviors including talking, making physical contact and looking at faces
  • Improved positive social behaviors including becoming more receptive to social advances from peers
  • Increased oxytocin levels in the brain
  • Changes in the levels of cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine 

Considerations for determining if hippotherapy is an appropriate speech therapy treatment strategy:

When determining if hippotherapy is appropriate as part of a client's speech  treatment, the speech language pathologist looks at the patient as a whole, taking their unique cognitive, sensory, motor and perceptual  abilities into consideration. While many children and adults benefit from speech therapy incorporating hippotherapy,  it is not for everyone.  The use of hippotherapy in treatment may be contraindicated for some patients for medical reasons (see our FAQ page for a list of possible precautions and contraindications).  Based on information from your doctor and your case history we will determine if there are any contraindications and precautions present. 

Hippotherapy Facts and Myths:

  • Despite it's confusing name, hippotherapy is NOT a "type of therapy" or a separate service.  It is a treatment tool that can be incorporated into a speech therapy, occupational therapy or physical therapy plan of care to help the therapist target specific goals.
  • Hippotherapy is NOT the same as "therapeutic riding" or "adaptive horseback riding".  It is NOT a horseback riding lesson.  It should not referred to as "equine therapy" or "horse therapy".
  • Hippotherapy is NOT a program.  Use of the term "hippotherapy program" is incorrect.  
  • Hippotherapy is NOT a new treatment strategy.  Hippotherapy has been offered in the United States since the 1970's, and earlier in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria (1960's).
  • Hippotherapy is NOT an "experimental or investigational procedure".  In fact, it is not "a procedure" at all.  It is a treatment tool that falls within the scope of practice for occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech language pathology professionals.  There is a large body of research related to the use of hippotherapy and animals in treatment.
  • Hippotherapy is NOT an "alternative treatment". 
  • There is no such thing as a "hippotherapist".  Therapists who provide services incorporating equine movement must be occupational therapists, physical therapists or speech language pathologists working within their  scope of practice. 
  • Because hippotherapy is not a separate service or a procedure, it is not appropriate to bill for it as a separate service.  For more information please see the American Hippotherapy Association position statement on billing.
  • Doctors should NOT write prescriptions for "hippotherapy".  Prescriptions should be written for speech therapy regardless of the treatment strategies that will be used.  The treatment strategies will be selected by the therapist and may be changed at any time in order to most effectively treat the patient.

Therapist Training

According to the American Hippotherapy Association (AHA), speech language pathology, occupational therapy and physical therapy professionals are the only personnel who have the prerequisite knowledge and training needed to use hippotherapy effectively as a treatment strategy.  The highest credential one can obtain in hippotherapy is to become a Board Certified Hippotherapy Clinical Specialist (HPCS).  To  become a board certified Hippotherapy Clinical Specialist is a lengthy process requiring the successful completion of the Hippotherapy Clinical Specialist Certification Exam.  Only physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech and language  pathologists who have been practicing in their profession for at least  three years (6,000 hours) and have 100 hours of hippotherapy practice within the three years prior to application may take the exam.  

The Hippotherapy Team

During treatment incorporating Hippotherapy, the speech language pathologist is assisted by a team.  Each member of the team plays an important role. The team is made up of a specially trained:

  • Speech-language pathologist
  • Therapy Horse
  • Horse handler
  • Side-walker

For more information about hippotherapy in Suffolk county, contact us.   

Watch: Gigi's nomination video for the American Hippotherapy Association Therapy Horse of the Year Award!