“Hippotherapy” Using Equine Movement as a Speech Language Therapy Tool:

Why does a speech language pathologists (SLP), incorporate hippotherapy in practice? 

To engage sensory, neuromotor and cognitive systems to promote functional outcomes in the area of communication.

Many patients I see who experience communication disorder have difficulty with sensory regulation and are consistently moving about the clinic room. These kids struggle with the ability to positively sustain attention to presented therapy tasks. This often accompanies children exhibiting symptoms associated with attention deficit disorders and an autism spectrum disorder. The SLP if often focusing much of the time trying to establish joint attention before being able to focus on therapy targets. 

These speech therapy patients who commonly have difficulty with attention in the clinic receive between 2500 to 3500 neuro motor inputs via the 3-dimensional equine movement. This helps stimulate the patient’s sensory and cognitive systems and improves their ability to attend to therapy directed tasks. The patient is no longer seeking to move about the room and is now experiencing the purposeful equine movement; yielding improvements with positive attentional focus. It is then possible to more effectively engage the patient with purposeful intervention techniques that are often used in a clinical setting. 

A patient who has limited success in a clinical setting, where the patient struggles to attend to structured intervention tasks and is expected to sit at a table or on a mat, will likely benefit from using hippotherapy. This tool offers both a dynamic and static surface that can be manipulated to increase positive therapeutic outcomes.

Once the patient’s attention is gained with the help of the purposeful equine movement, the SLP can overlay traditional intervention strategies while mounted. The strategic options are endless.  Language based intervention can be incorporated using all sorts of toys, manipulatives, literacy activities, articulation/phonologic intervention, semantic training, as well as comprehending and executing multi-step instructions.

One of the best aspects of speech therapy treatments that incorporate hippotherapy is that patient’s do not realize its therapy! They show improved engagement because they are having fun on the horse.

Terri Hutchison M.A., CCC-SLP

Speech Language Pathologist

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