Hippotherapy in Children with Developmental Delays: Physical Function and Psychological Benefits


Hippotherapy, or horse therapy, is an innovative form of physical therapy that involves the use of a horse as a therapeutic tool in order to effectively challenge a rider’s core muscles. The rhythm of the horse’s gait continuously engages the client’s balance and posture, while the supervising physical therapist seeks to improve the client’s overall coordination and fine motor skills through various activities. This combination of movement and therapist-directed activity can have significant impacts on the client’s postural control and physical function. Eight children between the ages of 2 - 12 years that had been previously diagnosed with a variety of different developmental delays or disorders participated in 8 - 12 weeks of hippotherapy. Subjects were tested before, during, and at the completion of their therapy. The physical function measures included a timed level and unlevel walking test, a coordination-based reach test, and were scored using the Gainesville Riding through Equine Assisted Therapy (G.R.E.A.T.) Postural Scale to measure quality of posture. Psychological changes were also evaluated based on the physical therapists’ notes and on parent questionnaires given preand post-study. Results indicated that 62.5% (5/8) of the subjects improved in their Postural Scale score, 87.5% (7/8) decreased their time to complete the level and unlevel distances, and 50% (4/8) of the subjects showed better coordination-based reach results from pre- to post-. Physical therapists’ notes and preliminary parent report analyses suggest improvements in subjects’ self-esteem and overall quality of life. These results indicate that hippotherapy sessions are a very effective way to improve physical function, specifically postural control, strength, and coordination in children who have been diagnosed with any type of developmental delay or disorder. Additionally children showed improvements in confidence, self-esteem, and quality of life as observed by their therapist and measured by the parent questionnaires, which may be directly related to the interaction with the horse and therapists or indirectly related to the improvements in motor function. This research has implications for the benefits of hippotherapy for the pediatric population for both function and quality of life.

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Thompson, F. , Ketcham, C. and Hall, E. (2014) Hippotherapy in Children with Developmental Delays: Physical Function and Psychological Benefits. Advances in Physical Education, 4, 60-69. doi: 10.4236/ape.2014.42009.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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