Equine therapy, also known as Hippotherapy (from the Greek word hippos meaning “horse”), is the art of using horses to promote physical, occupational, and emotional growth in persons suffering from ADD,Anxiety, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Dementia, Depression, Developmental Delay, Genetic Syndromes (such as Down Syndrome), Traumatic Brain Injuries, and Strokes. Equine Therapy can help the individual build confidence, self- efficiency, communication, trust, perspective, social skills, impulse control, and learn boundaries. Since the horses have similar behaviours with humans, such as social and responsive behaviours, it is easy for the patients to create a connection with the horse.
Equine therapy dates back to the times when horses were used for therapeutic riding in ancient Greek literature. Animals such as elephants, dolphins, dogs, and cats have also been used for therapeutic purposes. Horses become the most popular animal to use in animal therapy because they give immediate feedback to the rider’s actions. Horses also have the ability to mirror the feelings of the rider. Horses’ large and intimidating appearance forces their rider to gain trust around them.
Equine therapy can involve more than just riding the horse. In some sessions, a client might not even touch the horse at all. Often the mental health professional leading the session will set goals for the client to complete, such as leading the horse to a designated area or putting a halter on the horse. The client will complete the task to the best of their ability and then discuss the thought process, ideas and problem solving used to complete the task.
Horses are very social animals and as such, exhibit behaviour that is understandable to humans. Often the mental health professional will ask a client to interpret the horses’ behaviour in relation to their own. Asking a client to explain a horses’ behaviour allows the client to possibly project some of their feelings onto the horse and begin discussion about their own behaviour and thoughts.
Equine therapy is often used as team building exercises, family or group therapy because horses also show interpersonal behaviour. Also because equine therapy is often goal oriented, it allows the group to work together to achieve something.
Equine Therapy also includes horse care, maintenance, grooming procedures, and saddlery. An individual can ride the horse in a variety of positions (forward, side-sit, backwards, prone, supine) which targets different systems in the body such as the cognitive and physical.
Physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language therapy strive to assist the individual with many of the same goals as Equine therapy. Except physical therapy focuses more on gross motor movement and ability, occupational therapy focuses on fine motor ability, and speech-language therapy on the physiological systems associated with speech and language. Equine therapy is able to provide a combination of these three therapies without giving the individual a feeling that they are in therapy.
Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy: (EFP) using horses as an aid in psychotherapy. It includes creating a connection between the patient and horse through grooming and being around each other. Equine-assisted Psychotherapy: also known as EAP.