Equestrian Therapy and its role in Pediatric Occupational Therapy

Equestrian therapy, also known as Equine-Assisted Therapy or Horse therapy, is a form of therapy that utilizes horse-back riding to promote emotional and mental health. Equestrian therapy could be particularly helpful for patients with ADD, anxiety, ASD, delay in mental development, Down syndrome, and other genetic syndromes.

Equestrian therapy is made up of several activities. Patients participate in grooming, feeding, haltering and leading the horses around. These activities build sense of self-worth and self-concept. Horse therapy helps improve communication, builds trust and self-efficiency. Equestrian therapy has also been proven to lower blood pressure and heart rate, to alleviate stress, and to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. This type of therapy aids the patients in taking control and gaining assertiveness.

Using animals to aid in therapy has been a recent phenomenon. Animal-assisted therapy has been shown to make patients more comfortable and open to therapy. The use of animals can make therapy less threatening and they could also be used as an incentive to attend therapy. The most common animals used in animal-assisted therapy range from dogs, to dolphins, to farm animals. Horses are also great animals to use in therapy. The horse acts as the perfect mirror. They are emotional beings that respond immediately and provide feedback to the rider’s actions and behavior. This is helpful because the patient can then quickly adjust their actions to calm the horse.

Equestrian therapy dates back to 600 BC. Ancient Greek literature mentions the use of horse-back riding as an efficient form of therapy. The Community Association of Riding of the Disabled (CARD) started therapeutic riding in the 1960’s. Equestrian therapy was first thought to be most helpful for people with disabilities. The rhythmic galloping of the horse calms the patients and for people who have lost the use of their legs, riding the horse substitutes the feeling of being able to walk again. It is now used as a therapeutic technique for a variety of different needs.

Hippotherapy is similar to equestrian therapy. Hippotherapy involves occupational, speech and physical therapy but utilizes equine movement. Unlike equestrian therapy, which is led by mental health professionals, hippotherapy is led by specially trained physical and occupational therapists. The therapist’s role is to make sure that the child is comfortable and to adjust treatment depending on the patient’s responses. Hippotherapy’s main function is to treat children with movement dysfunction who also seek occupational, speech or physical therapy.