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Hippotherapy - Healing Children with Horses

Updated on July 5, 2021
Pamela99 profile image

After 22 years as an RN, I now write about medical issues and new medical advances. Diet, exercise, treatment, and lifestyle are important.


Healing Hippotherapy

I recently read a marvelous book about Hippotherapy, only they didn’t use that term, and the book is just an example of this type of therapy. This is a true story about a brave Christian woman and her husband who started a ranch, called Crystal Peaks, for abused horses in Bend, Oregon and soon was working with wounded and ill children also.

It was so interesting I couldn’t put the book down. The book is "Hope Rising" by Kim Meeder, and apparently there was a movie made based on her book, which I hope to see.

About the Book

When Kim and her husband started the ranch it was little more than a dust bowl, and the amount of physical work is astonishing. She was orphaned at a young age, as her father shot her mother, then himself. I’m sure experiencing this degree of trauma is what gave her such a big heart to rescue wounded and ill treated horses, then wounded and sick children.

The chapters in the book are short; and many topics are covered but one of the first chapters touched my heart. There was a 16 year old girl who had been mute since the loss of her parents, who is staying at the ranch.

She and Kim were brushing an abused, emaciated horse when the phone rang, and Kim went to answer it. As Kim looked out of her kitchen window she watched the girl ass she rubbed the horses face, put her face to his, and then she started talking to the horse while waving her arms in an animated fashion.

Not only do the children find healing from these tortured horses, the horses find healing through the children’s love also. The horses will respond by looking at you instead of holding their heads down, and they choose to live when they were ready to die. There were many miracles and some tough problems throughout the book.



When I finished the book I decided to read about Hippotherapy and found it is happening in virtually every state. I was surprised. The word Hippotherapy literally means treatment with the help of a horse. It originates from the Greek word “hippos”, which means horse. It is the 3-dimensional movement of the horse’s hips and pelvis as his hind legs move forward at the walk, which provides a movement challenge to the patient, thus therapy.

The American Hippotherapy Association actively promotes the horses as a treatment strategy for people with disabilities. This therapy has been shown to improve muscle tone, balance, posture, coordination, motor development and emotional well-being. Horses are carefully chosen, and special equipment is used as necessary.

Hippotherapy : What is Hippotherapy?

North American Riding for the Handicapped Association

The North American Riding for the Handicapped Association has accredited some 700 therapeutic riding centers. Therapeutic riding is supervised recreational riding for people with disabilities.

Trained Therapists Licensed

Therapeutic riding influences the whole person and the effect on all of the body’s systems can be quite profound. The typical staff at a ranch consists of medical professionals, such as physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists who have special training in equine therapy, and for mental health social workers and psychologists also work in this field.

Therapists are licensed to do this type of work. Some examples of patients that typically seek this therapy are those with developmental disorders, neuromuscular disabilities or skeletal impairments.

This therapy has been successfully used for patients with autism, cerebral palsy, head injuries, stroke, spinal cord injury, behavioral disorders and psychiatric disorders.

Training the Child

source laureninstitute
source laureninstitute

St Louis Participates in Hippotherapy & Cerebral Palsy Study at Washington University

Hippotherapy Explained

Hippotherapy uses specific activities with the horse that is geared to the patient’s specific goals. It provides a foundation of improved neuromotor function and sensory processing that can be generalized to a wide variety of activities outside of treatment. This means the patient’s adaptive response to the horse’s movement and the environment will improve the function of the individual.

Some of the activities are done with the person facing forward, then backward and to a quadruped (on all fours). This activity (the transition, the quadruped position and the reaching activity), is overlaid by the characteristic movements of a horse.

In addition to the facilitation of automatic postural responses and the stimulation of the trunk muscles, this therapy action increases sensory input to the following systems:

  • Vestibular - because the patient is sitting backwards
  • Proprioceptive - which is heavy touch pressure through the joints in the arms and legs when they are in the quadruped position
  • Tactile - due to touching the horse, cognitive therapy due to using higher level motor planning skills in order to execute the transition in position
  • Motor or physical benefits - due to the stability of the hips and pelvis required to maintain the position while reaching forward with one hand.

Special Equipment Needed

source range Hippotherapy
source range Hippotherapy | Source

What About Those Abnormal Signs in Infants?

These are some signs that you can recognize in an infant where using Hippotherapy is beneficial. Does your 9 month old baby need help sitting up? Does your 15 month old baby need help to walk? Infants with cerebral palsy have been widely helped. Is you child too stiff or too floppy?

If you answered yes to these questions this is what Hippotherapy claims to do:

  • Help facilitate normal developmental progress.
  • Work with tight muscles to reverse this problem.
  • Increase the range of motion of the infant in all his extremities and muscle strength.
  • The therapy will increase the child’s endurance for gross muscle activity.
  • Coordination will be improved.
  • Increase movement patterns that the child is able to use.
  • Work to improve the ability of the child to change positions.
  • Therapy should increase posture while sitting, standing and walking.

The goal is to help your child function as independently as possible.

Another advantage to the therapy is they will make recommendations as to appropriate adaptive equipment, and they will teach you how to help your child at home in your everyday routine. The benefits are proven to enable a child to live a fuller life in many ways.

Wounded Vets Benefit from Hippotherapy

Hippotherapy is now being used as part of the physical therapy training for wounded vets. It has been shown to increase strength, and facilitate balance.

Research has proved that this therapy also improves neurological function and sensory processing. There are numerous benefits from a psychological effect also.

Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch -from the book

In Conclusion

Hippotherapy was being used routinely in Europe in the 1960’s but was a little slower to reach America. Not everyone believes it is useful. Researchers have done studies, but results seem to vary. However, I found several success stories on the internet.

My personal opinion is, for instance, if you have a child who has cerebral palsy what do you have to lose? Insurance should cover most of the cost with a doctor’s prescription, and it will cost you some time with a chance at improvement. It is probably well worth the money and time investment.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


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