What is hippotherapy?

Boy Rider on SnowHippotherapy is a physical, occupational or speech therapy treatment strategy that utilizes a horse’s rhythmic and three-dimensional movement to address a participant’s impairments, functional limitations and disabilities.

Hippotherapy treatment is conducted by a physical therapist, occupational therapist or speech/language pathologist as part of an integrated treatment program to improve a participant’s flexibility, posture, balance and mobility.

Hippotherapy literally means “treatment with the help of the horse” from the Greek word, “hippos” meaning horse. The horse’s gait transfers variable, repetitive and rhythmic movement to the participant providing sensory input to the brain and nervous system. The horse’s movement helps mimic the human movement patterns of the pelvis while walking. An average horse takes 120 walking steps per minute, allowing 120 opportunities each minute for a client to experience this unique movement that is difficult to simulate with other equipment.

Most participants are eager and excited for their hippotherapy sessions each week. They enjoy the interaction with the horse and the fun, non-clinical environment. Parents often say, this is the one time that my child looks forward to coming to therapy, because it’s not like traditional therapy.

How is hippotherapy different from therapeutic riding?

Unlike therapeutic riding, hippotherapy is one-on-one therapy and the participant is not directing the horse. Instead, the therapist guides the participant’s position and actions while the horse is controlled by a specially trained horse handler. The therapist uses the horse as a treatment tool in the same way they might use an exercise ball.

When is hippotherapy scheduled?

Hippotherapy is scheduled once a week for 30 minutes. Heartland offers four eight-week sessions each year that follow the public school calendar. Hippotherapy is currently scheduled on Thursday and Friday between 8:30 AM and 1:00 PM.

What are the fees?

The fee for each individual weekly session is $55.00.  This fee covers only 30% of our actual cost. The balance is covered by donations. We have a scholarship fund to help riders who cannot pay the full fee. Participants may apply for a scholarship by completing the scholarship application.

Who is accepted for hippotherapy?

Hippotherapy is a medical treatment requiring a physician’s prescription for OT, PT, or speech therapy to achieve functional outcomes. Participants must be a development age of 2 years old.  Children younger than 2 years old do not yet posses the neurological systems that can manage the sensory input which is produced by sitting astride a moving horse.

Each participant goes through an evaluation process that starts by completing an on-line application. The next step is an on-site evaluation by our therapist. Several forms are required for participation which include a Medical Form and Release of Liability.

Who conducts the hippotherapy sessions?

Our therapist, Chris Tholen, is a Hippotherapy Clinical Specialist, Licensed Occupational Therapist, and Registered Therapeutic Riding Instructor. She is certified by the American Hippotherapy Association and PATH Intl.

Who can benefit from hippotherapy?

A wide variety of participants can benefit from hippotherapy. Some diagnoses commonly treated by our therapists include:

  • Attention Deficit Disorder
  • Autism
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Closed Head Injury
  • Developmental Delay
  • Down Syndrome
  • Emotional Disorders
  • Hearing Impairment
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Paralysis
  • Scoliosis
  • Spinal Bifida
  • Traumatic Brain Injury