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What Is Hippotherapy For Autism

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What Types Of Horses Are Used For Hippotherapy

Therapists turn to Hippotherapy to help Autistic patients

Therapy horses are carefully selected for their temperament and the type of movement they produce. Among the most frequently used horses for hippotherapy are calm, gentle, and even-tempered American quarter horses. They must have good walking gaits and symmetrical motion to exercise the childs muscles evenly during sessions. Hippotherapy horses are specially trained for therapy sessions with autistic children.

Theres Something About Riding A Horse

In the end, the riders did better than the non-riders on several tests. Theres something about riding the horse that seems to be important, says Gabriels, who is also professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

In therapeutic riding, a trained instructor teaches riding and horsemanship skills to people who have a disability. We know this works. We know these kids are having great results, but now theres actual proof, says Erica Zimmerman, a therapeutic riding instructor at Colorado Therapeutic Riding Center Inc. in Longmont.

Riding advocates were not the only people happy to see this research.

We have few evidence-based treatments for autism, penned L. Eugene Arnold, M.D., in an editorial about Gabriels study.6Further, those that exist are not universally effective and are laborious and expensive or risky . We need good studies of safer, easier, and cost-effective treatments to fill the therapeutic gaps. In the absence of evidence, desperate parents are at the mercy of unsubstantiated claims and hopes. So the Colorado riding study, he concluded, is a welcome addition to the evidence base.6

The research took place at a riding center affiliated with Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International, a U.S.-based nonprofit that certifies instructors and accredits centers that meet its professional standards.

Other Benefits Of Hippotherapy

Hippotherapy may help children with autism learn a variety of skills that they can apply in their daily life, and encourage them to start participating in activities they used to avoid.

Some of the numerous physical and psychological benefits hippotherapy has for autistic children include:

  • Improve memory, concentration, and attention to tasks
  • Improve motor planning
  • Get a better sense of body-awareness
  • Improve socialization skills
  • Learn more appropriate ways to interact with peers.

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What Kind Of Therapy Helps Horses

4 Types of Equine Therapy Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy This is a form of psychotherapy involving interactions with horses in attempt to improve mental health and functionality. Equine Facilitated Learning This is a specific type of equine therapy aimed to improve social and emotional learning via interaction with horses. Hippotherapy.

Evaluation Of An Equine Therapy Program In Students With Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism, with hippotherapy the smile returns to the faces ...

Iago Portela-Pino, Sonia Bouzo-Gónzalez, Margarita Pino-Juste


Equine Assisted Therapy has the main objective of using horseback riding as a tool in a therapeutic process to improve, among other facets, motor skills and postural control and even psychological well-being. The purpose of this research was to determine if equinetherapy favours the motor, communication and social development in subjects with ASD. A case study was performed with 5 subjects between 8 and 31 years. The program was carried out over 32 sessions of 60 minutes each, a day a week. The recording techniques were a questionnaire, observation and a field diary. Among the most salient results, we point out improvements in balance, posture, fine and gross motricity, and an optimal muscle relaxation that gradually leads to a removal of stereotypies. Regarding the aspect of social communication, a major improvement in non-verbal communication, and new bonding of friendship, love and respect for animals. This study is a contribution to the scientific evaluation of equine therapy as an effective treatment in persons with ASD.


Full Text:


Ajzenman, H.F., Standeven, J.W. and Shurtkeff, T.L. . Effect of Hippotherapy on Motor Control, Adaptative Behaviors, and Participation in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Pilot Study. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 67, 653-663.

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What Is Hippotherapy And How Can It Help Children With Autism And Adhd

By Leslie Burby

The reason I decided to interview Beverly Saddler was because I was interested in learning about Hippotherapy as a means of therapeutic services for Autism related therapy. I wanted to learn about the differences between Hippotherapy and equestrian therapy and it all seemed very confusing to me. So, I decided to go the horses mouth and went straight to a therapy centre here in Connecticut where I live to find out more.

Leslie: I am here with Bev Saddler in Ellington, Connecticut on March 30th, 2013. And Bev runs the Ellington Therapy Center.

Beverly Sadler: Ellington Therapy Riding Center

Leslie: Would you mind telling us, how you came to start the center?

I think one of the major differences to point out is that therapeutic riding is different and that people who go into that are horse people and they have to learn how to work with people and kids with special needs. So, it could be anyone as long as they can walk, trot and canter and teach the kid how to ride, they can be certified as a therapeutic riding instructor. They often do multiple children or adults in a group so it can be anywhere from three to eight people in their sessions whereas most of us therapists do one on one.

Leslie: With hippotherapy?

Beverly Sadler: Yes

Leslie: And then, do you have a program to go through for hippotherapy?

Leslie: And so the Ellington Therapy Riding Center has wheelchair accessible bathrooms, handicapped parking and even have wheelchair ramp to mount the horse.

Hippotherapy Vs Therapeutic Riding

Hippotherapy is a form of equine-assisted therapy. Equine-assisted therapies encompass a range of treatments involving horses and other equine animals and can be classified as:

  • Interactive vaulting where children perform movements on and around a horse
  • Therapeutic carriage driving for anyone who is not able or willing to ride
  • Equine-assisted activities like horse grooming and stable management.

Hippotherapy is not to be confused with therapeutic riding which consists of recreational horseback riding lessons adapted to individuals with disabilities. Hippotherapy, on the contrary, focuses on the rhythmic and repetitive walk of the horse which serves as a foundation for improving the sensory processing and skills of a child with autism.

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Hippotherapy And Autism Spectrum Disorders

Whether your child is on the autism spectrum or you work with children in a clinical setting, you know that the right therapeutic approach can make a difference in any childs development. When parents and professionals use equine-assisted therapy for autism spectrum disorders, they often see a measurable improvement in symptoms.

Hippotherapy Programs For Autistic Children In Atlanta

Hippotherapy with Children with Autism or Sensory Processing Disorders

There is no shortage of top-rated hippotherapy programs to choose from in the Atlanta area. Here are just a few:

Scott Rustulka

Scott, a native of Canada, joined the Hidden Talents team at the onset of 2021, moving his family of 6 from San Diego to the great state of Georgia. He began his journey in behavior analytics in 2001 at a time when autism programs had very little oversight by credentialled clinicians. The onset of that journey was wrought with disappointment in a system that seemed to do very little lasting good for the long-term growth of the individuals within that system.

Over the years, Scott determined to ensure that dignity and respect was afforded to the children he had the privilege of working, while devoting a lot of energy into understanding how the development of a child is the key focus to treatment and not reactive behavior modification. Truly listening to the child and the family and finding ways to make behavior change fun and engaging continues to be his passion. Over the last 20 years, Scott still relishes every opportunity to visit families and have the honor of being a part of their lives.

Maureen O’Brien

Olivia Steele

Arye Hartal

Joanna Young

Elissa Watson

Matthew Grennell

Sharifah Christie

Kimberly Culbreth

Bisirat Haile

Lindsay Campbell

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Effect Of Hippotherapy On Motor Control Adaptive Behaviors And Participation In Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Pilot Study

Heather F. Ajzenman, OTD, OTR/L,John W. Standeven, PhD,Tim L. Shurtleff, OTD, OTR/L,

Heather F. Ajzenman, John W. Standeven, Tim L. Shurtleff Effect of Hippotherapy on Motor Control, Adaptive Behaviors, and Participation in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Pilot Study. Am J Occup Ther November/December 2013, Vol. 67, 653663. doi:

How To Choose A Therapist

Parents may ask therapists at their child’s early intervention program or school whether the child is a good candidate for hippotherapy and if they have recommendations for licensed therapists. Unfortunately, there are a limited number of facilities and trained therapists available, and only licensed OTs, PTs, and SLPs utilize hippotherapy as a treatment tool. Some early intervention programs and health insurance companies will cover the costs of hippotherapy as they would for therapy in other clinical settings. But insurance companies typically require that treatment be provided by a therapist with credentials in the same discipline that the child needs. In other words, if the insurance company agrees that a child qualifies for PT services to improve gait, it will pay only for hippotherapy provided by a PT.

Of course, parents who pay out of pocket have the option of choosing any type of therapist. They can also opt to include therapeutic riding instructors who are trained and are certified to teach people with disabilities how to ride a horse — to steer, trot, or jump over poles — but health insurance companies do not typically pay for therapeutic riding lessons.

To find a therapist with advanced certification training in hippotherapy, visit The American Hippotherapy Association, which has a directory of therapists:

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What Professionals Provide Hippotherapy

Hippotherapy is a medically prescribed treatment provided by occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech-language pathology professionals.

It is important to keep in mind that hippotherapy is not a separate program. It is combined with other standard therapy tools and strategies devised in your childs intervention plan. Hippotherapy is often used in cases where traditional treatments have not been successful. Adding horse-assisted therapy to an existent treatment routine has been proven to significantly increase the well-being of autistic children.

Hippotherapy And How Can It Help Children With Autism And Adhd

What is the Difference Between Hippotherapy and Equine ...

Leslie: I can completely relate having previously owned a business.

Beverly Sadler: People dont realize, I mean non-profit sounds wonderful but small business and a non-profit run the same way. Different paperwork and also technically I cant be a fundraiser but fundraising is terrible, I mean its tiring. You have to come up with ideas. I have a lovely young woman who is a majoring in Early Education and she wants to do something for me. Well, I am not a non-profit but her and her mother just love doing this. Having a cocktail party to raise money, the money raised and the people just came and donate money to it and I assure them that its not going to pay me and its not going toward boarding of the horse and its going to the clients, to the children. I have one boy that comes, when I have money and I have a cancellation and I call him up and I say come, come on over and he loves it. I sponsor whoever I can, whenever I can.

Leslie: Thats great! The website that you did mention is and theres a lot of information and theres a lot of therapy that is offered here

Beverly Sadler: I am not sure what you mean by that, we offer occupational therapy but what you mean by other therapies?

Leslie: It stated on the website animal assisted therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, hippotherapy?

Leslie: Right. You have to build that relationship.

Beverly Sadler: There is no way around that.

Beverly Sadler: Yes, its an exercise program therapy.

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And What Do The Parents Say About Hippotherapy

Our little girl is thriving due to the extra dimension that Sensational Kids have introduced for children with special needs. Our little girl has developed a rapport with a horse that delights her while she is doing occupational therapy. Her confidence, and her attention span in school is soaring, now she is doing things that she would never do.

The relationship that she has developed with the horse, her Occupational Therapist has reached stratospheric heights and added a new dimension to untapped potential.

I can only thank Sensational Kids from the bottom of my heart. I feel very positive and happy about her future. I know there are endless possibilities.

Our little girl is reading, writing and doing math, she is intrinsically happy and knows if she works hard that her friend Fabia and her get a play date that every week is a rigorous physical and occupational therapy session veiled in fun, craic and joy. The key is that it is intrinsically motivating her to soar new heights..

Hippotherapy is utterly amazing, transforming and an untapped resource that these special children deserve.crave and need very much.

Thank you so much Sensational Kids.

E. Conway

Equusterra Therapeutic Horse Riding

Irina Aleksandrova holds a Bachelor of Education and is a registered coach with Equestrian Australia. She gained much of her equine training in the USA and upon her arrival in Australia, Irina sought to use both her teaching experience and her knowledge of horses to teach others to ride. The profound positive changes in the emotional and physical well-being of the riders encouraged Irina to start EquusTerra in June 2015. Irinas desire was to focus on people with intellectual/neurological disabilities.

In EquusTerra, Irina and her Equestrian Australia trained horse coaches teach therapeutic horse riding to people of all ages. Most clients live with various disorders including ASD, ADD and anxiety.

In contrast to other equine therapy practitioners, Irinas approach is holistic. It comprises sport, health, and wellness development with the desired outcome of a happy and healthy lifestyle. Participants spend time with a horse, becoming acquainted with the animal, learning to care for it and learning safety compliances-before they ever mount the horse. Only then do participants learn to ride from the basics up.

When the participant builds a relationship with the horse, often the spiritual benefits of working with such a large, intuitive animal become evident in a short time. EquusTerra fills a unique niche in this form of experiential learning by concentrating on three aspects of development, the physiological, psychological and the spiritual.

Heres how it goes

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Autism And Therapeutic Horses

Individuals diagnosed with autistic disorders are each unique. Some may embrace the therapeutic intervention while others will have negative responses to the approach. It is very important to have a professional assessment to ensure that this autism multisensory approach is right for each individual.

Hippotherapy & Speech Therapy

Hippotherapy for Kids with Autism and ADHD

A child who comes to Horseplay Therapy Center works one on one with a speech therapist to improve production of speech sounds and words, as well as articulation of those words. We understand that communication is vital to being independent. Together our pediatric speech therapists have over 50 years of experience in teaching children to communicate effectively.

Pediatric Speech/Language Therapists use the repetitive, rhythmical, organized movement of the horse to facilitate organization in the mind and body of the child. This organized thinking helps the child to put their words and thoughts together so as to communicate more effectively. Patients are also very motivated for their horses to start moving. It has happened on multiple occasions that a child will say their first word in effort to get their horse to go! Speech therapists combine therapy activities off of the horse with therapy on the horse to achieve the greatest outcomes.

At Horseplay Therapy Center we treat children with a variety of diagnoses including ASD , childhood Apraxia of Speech, Down Syndrome, genetic disorders, traumatic brain injuries, receptive and expressive aphasia, developmental delays,and more.

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Hippotherapy Programs For Autistic Children

Now that you learned about the benefits of hippotherapy, what you can expect at a session, and how to encourage your child to take up therapeutic horse riding, you may want to start looking for programs in your area.

In light of this, we put together a list of the best hippotherapy providers in the United States. Each of them offers unique programs that your autistic son or daughter can join.

The Future Of Therapeutic Riding Research

Dr. Gabriels’ study is not the last word on therapeutic riding in fact, she is continuing to research the topic. Science requires that studies be reproduced, or replicated, to prove that the results were not a fluke or caused by other factors. “I would like to see more objective measures used, as well as a replication of our measures at other sites,” she said.

She is working with Marguerite E. O’Haire, an assistant professor at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, on a system of rating people’s behavior, when studying their response to animal interventions. This system is being used in another therapeutic riding study, by people who don’t know whether the children were in the riding or control group, Dr. O’Haire said.

Dr. Gabriels also is working on a study that measured levels of cortisol in participants’ saliva before and 20 minutes after horseback riding, compared to a barn-activities group that had no contact with horses. Called the “stress hormone,” cortisol levels change in response to a person’s stress.8 New studies also could use a control group that receives no barn or horse-related activity, or could look at whether riding a mechanical horse would produce the same results as a live one.

Regardless of what future research may say about behavior or language, some parents point out that therapeutic riding offers another benefit: it’s something fun to do with friends.

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