Occupational and Physical therapy incorporating the horse into treatment is called Hippotherapy. Hippotherapy is 1:1 individualized treatment by a licensed clinician with advanced knowledge, who uses the horse’s movement to influence the cognitive, sensory and neuro-motor systems of the rider. Occupational therapists also incorporate the horse into treatment, using mounted and unmounted activities. They work to address emotional well-being and mental health.

This treatment option is available for individuals age 2 and up.

Incorporating the horse into the treatment session can be extremely beneficial for individuals with physical, sensory, cognitive or mental health/emotional challenges. At Exceptional Equestrians, our team works with a multitude of diagnosis including Anxiety, Cerebral Palsy, Depression, Down Syndrome, Spina Bifida, Sensory Processing Disorder, Autism, ADHD and many others.

During a mounted hippotherapy session, the therapist and equine will challenge the rider’s motor and sensory systems. The three-dimensional movement of the horse stimulates a multi-system response from the participant. Participants with physical challenges gain mobility, strength, balance and endurance, leading to new or improved motor skills.

For participants with sensory challenges, the movement of the horse assists in modulating arousal, which facilitates an improved ability to focus their attention and engage with others. Off horse interaction, such as grooming, offers novel sensory input as well as an opportunity to form a relationship with the equine; a sentient being.

The hippotherapy clinician may add additional activities to stimulate other systems such as vision, auditory, respiratory, speech, or cognition to achieve functional outcomes that transition into daily life.

For individuals struggling with mental health and emotional well-being, incorporating the horse into occupational therapy can be a unique and valuable experience.

Both mounted and unmounted activities provide opportunities for the development of:

  • Emotional self-awareness
  • Self-efficacy
  • Stress/Coping skills
  • Relationship building
  • Confidence and self-esteem

Interaction with a horse has long been known to reduce stress and anxiety. The horse often reflects our emotions and attitudes providing an individualized learning experience with powerful results.

Lisa Kafka, OTR, HPCS, ESMHL is the director of our hippotherapy program. She is a licensed occupational therapist, a certified hippotherapy clinical specialist through the American Hippotherapy Association, a registered riding instructor, and equine specialist in mental health through PATH International. Lisa is also a certified Neuro-Developmental Treatment therapist.