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Hippotherapy - Healing Children with Horses

Updated on August 19, 2020
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 who started a ranch, called Crystal Peaks, for abused horses in Bend, Oregon, and soon was working with wounded and ill children as well.

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 she and her husband started the ranch it was little more than a dust bowl, and the amount of physical work itself 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 staying at the ranch. She and Kim were brushing an abused, emaciated horse when the phone rang and Kim went into her home to answer it. As Kim looked out of her kitchen window she watched the girl rubbing the horses face, putting 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 are 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, but it is not Hippotherapy. Hippotherapy is a medical treatment that requires a physician’s prescription. Often these patients may progress to therapeutic riding

Trained Therapists Licensed

Therapeutic riding influences the whole person and the effect on all of the body’s systems can be quite profound. The staff consists of medical professionals, such as physical therapist, occupational therapist and speech therapist 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 the types of patients that typically seek this therapy are patients 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 is a treatment approach that uses specific activities in the horse that are 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.

It may sound simple for us to make those few changes, but for a patient that has little control of his muscles or bones.

Special Equipment Needed

source range Hippotherapy
source range Hippotherapy | Source

What About Those Abnormal Signs in Infants?

These are some signs that you can recognizer in an infant that may improve using Hippotherapy. 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 it facilitates balance and posture control.

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

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.

I certainly think it is an interesting therapy and probably very helpful to many people.

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.


Submit a Comment
  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    5 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Renee, I love that fact also. That book I read really touched me. Thanks for your comments.

  • renee21 profile image

    Tori Leumas 

    5 years ago

    I love it that horses have the innate ability to help people who are physically and emotionally disabled. Great hub! Voted up!

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    8 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Martis, I believe the name of the movie is Hope Rising. I would like to see the movie also, but have only read the book at this time. Thanks for your comments.

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    Very inspiring. I will definitely buy book, can you advise what's the name of the movie?

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    9 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Hello, I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. Thanks for your comments.

  • Hello, hello, profile image

    Hello, hello, 

    9 years ago from London, UK

    Thank you for your excellent hub.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    9 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Bk Creative, Thanks for your story about the children and I love animals also. I have the most gentle loving cat who follows me around like a puppy but I have always treated him with gentle love and he responds. Thanks so much for your comments.

    Gals, I agree that the work they are doing with disabled children is amazing. Thank you so much for your comment.

  • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

    Susan Hazelton 

    9 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Pamela, great article. I have seen a withdrawn child start to come out of their shell when placed on a horse. There is nothing like horse therapy to bring out the best in a disabled child. Rated up and awesome.

  • BkCreative profile image


    9 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

    The term hippotherapy got my attention because I am a great lover of hippos - I have this obsession - and they too are horses - water horses.

    But the use of horses is fascinating and I just had an interesting experience. Walking downtown I saw a police officer on a horse. Beautiful horse. A neighbor called from across the street and while I was waiting for her I noticed two little children about 3 and 4 years old, rushing to approach the horse - they had no fear at all, they wanted to touch the horse. Of course the moms restrained the children - but the children had no fear at all and desperately wanted to touch this gigantic horse. Instinctively the children felt the need to go directly up to the horse. They were allowed at some point to gently touch. But they were so enthralled - so how can this not be good, be helpful?

    Did we forget that we are all animals meant to gently interact. I recently adopted a wild and amazing cat who lived outdoors. She has all her wonderful hunting and stalking instincts and is just hilarious. Of course she treats me like the big primate in the house - that just happens to have hands to do her bidding. Imagine, her treating me like an animal, a big primate at that...but wait...this is what I am.

    Wonderful hub - and rated up.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    9 years ago from Sunny Florida

    One-life, I was fascinated when I started reading about this therapy too. Thanks for your comment.s

  • One-life1 profile image

    Ar Az 

    9 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

    This is an amazing hub also very interesting. Thank you voted up

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    9 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Movie Master, I;m glad you enjoyed the hub and I appreciate your comments.

  • Movie Master profile image

    Movie Master 

    9 years ago from United Kingdom

    Thank you Pamela for a great hub, I found it very moving, horses are such beautiful animals, I had never even heard of hippotherapy.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    9 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Marcoujor, I am glad you enjoyed the hub and I appreciate your comments.

    Hanna, I know dogs are used in nursing homes and I know of a great project at a hospital near me, but I wondered if working with dogs had the same potential. It is great that you have experience with horses and dog. Thanks for your comments.

  • HealthyHanna profile image


    9 years ago from Utah

    I know about the healing from working with and horses especially.

    I work at a prison, and I have seen what the horse project can do for an offender. It isn't for everyone, but, it is for some.

    Also, here in Utah we have a dog program for women offenders. It is important for both men and women to learn to take care of someone. Animals are a good choice because they are so easy to forgive, even when abused.

  • marcoujor profile image

    Maria Jordan 

    9 years ago from Jeffersonville PA


    Oh, yet another awesome benefit of animals... I absolutely had no idea and am so appreciative to read about this from you/ now want, of course, to also see the movie... this is a fantastic subject and I thank you very much.

    Pushed all UP and UAB buttons... just like you...!!

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    9 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Roberta, The work they do for the children and for the horses at Crystal Peaks is wonderful. Thank you for your comment.

    always exploring, You would really enjoy the book and I imagine the movie is good also. It is a good feeling to know there are caring people in this world and I wish we heard more about them. Thanks for your comments.

  • always exploring profile image

    Ruby Jean Richert 

    9 years ago from Southern Illinois

    This is wonderful! Kim Meeder's book sounds special. I want to see the movie. Thank you..This is my first time to read about this...Helping children and horses..An idea brought about through personal pain. This hub reminds us that there are so many kind and loving people in the world.


  • profile image


    9 years ago

    Thought your hub was awesome. I have read a book similar

    to yours, and what marvelous work these peoople do for the poor horses and the needy chilcren.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    9 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Diamond, I found so many different places in different states that I was really surprised. I will check out your link. Thanks for the comment.

    patriot, I think that is one reason I enjoyed that book so much. We hear so much negative and it is nice to hear about someone that walks the walk as you stated. Thanks for your comments. Much appreciated.

    Ruby, Thank you so much for your comment.

    Ancillotti, I'm glad you enjoyed the hub and I appreciate your comments.

  • Ancillotti profile image


    9 years ago from Brasil, Vitoria - ES

    Great Hub! Congralutions for your Hub!

  • Ruby H Rose profile image

    Maree Michael Martin 

    9 years ago from Northwest Washington on an Island

    It is a great work, for the people and the horses.

  • profile image

    partisan patriot 

    9 years ago


    Thanks for thisw heart warming informative hub; in the midst of today's problems it's nice to step back and read about some good people doing things to help annimals and children; I'm so sick of phony politicians talking about helping people then going off and continuing to pollute the airways with their evil class warfare rhetoric; this person truly walks the walk!

  • DiamondRN profile image

    Bob Diamond RPh 

    9 years ago from Charlotte, NC USA

    Joshua's Farm in Charlotte uses horses to work with autistic children, etc:

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    9 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Cybersupe, That was fast! I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. We had a wonderful Easter and I hope you did also. Thanks for the comment. God Bless you also.

  • CYBERSUPE profile image


    9 years ago from MALVERN, PENNSYLVANIA, U.S.A.

    Excellent Pamela. Thanks for this informative and very interesting story.

    God Bless! Hope you had a very Happy Easter.


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