Healing with Horses: A Closer Look At Hippotherapy

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Equestrian buildings are quite popular with Armstrong Steel customers. Sometimes these steel buildings are used as a barndominium (a barn/condo combination), other times they serve as a simple tack room and stable, and some of these structures serve a much greater purpose – they help build a bond between horse and human that benefits both.

Hippotherapy, also known as Equine-Assisted Activity and Therapy (EAAT), helps people of all ages deal with emotional, physical and cognitive struggles. Horses have been known to help humans cope, recover and begin again for centuries. A physical, cognitive, or emotional special need doesn’t prohibit someone from benefitting from interaction with horses. A special bond is formed between human and horse once interaction is initiated whether one has a disability or not.

Hippotherapy Origins

Derived from the Greek word hippos, meaning horse, the word hippotherapy is quite literally horse therapy. Ancient Greek writer, Orbasis, documented the therapeutic benefits of horseback riding as far back as 600 BC. In modern times, it was the the Scandinavians that began to widely use hippotherapy during a polio outbreak in 1946 in order to rehabilitate those affected by the disease.

Benefits of Hippotherapy

The benefits of hippotherapy far outweigh the cost of maintaining horses. Hippotherapy can improve a rider’s strength, balance, concentration, motor skills, flexibility and self-esteem. There’s been tremendous growth with this kind of therapy over the past 30 years as a resource for children with disabilities such as Attention Deficit Disorder, cerebral palsy, down syndrome and Tourette’s Syndrome. Over time, the physicality of riding horses, as well as the emotional connection, helps children with disabilities become more able to function in society without help.8676258474_16e06a3588_zBesides helping those with disabilities, hippotherapy is also very beneficial for people with emotional challenges such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression. The therapy is used in the corporate world because it helps build leadership and communication skills among co-workers. When used effectively, it can create a powerful new business structure.

Horse Therapy Isn’t Just for Kids

Elderly adults, some well into their 90’s, enjoy hippotherapy for muscle recovery as well as a means to stay fit. Hippotherapy is known to help veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder while fostering positive self-esteem, communication skills, healthy impulse controls, confidence, a sense of freedom, self-worth, safety and respect for others.

At-Risk Youth are also candidates for horse therapy. Troubled kids can learn a lot from horses and Hippotherapy does wonders for antisocial behavior. For these ‘patients,’ however, often these kids don’t focus as much time on learning to ride the horse, instead focusing on horse-care skills and bonding. By creating a rapport with the horse, at-risk youth are able to express themselves without outside influence. They learn to trust themselves as well as the horse.

About The Horses

Because kids are less inclined to be as demanding as adults, they connect with horses very well. Horses are natural prey and respond to individuals who make them feel comfortable; eventually allowing these individuals to lead them.

In every facility, on-staff therapists know exactly what kind of personality each horse has and the therapist will pair each student with a horse that will benefit their specific need the most. There’s no way to tell if one specific type of horse is better suited for hippotherapy over another type – just like the people they help, the horses need to be willing to work with different types of people.

How Therapy Works

3207284009_2e9809cc38_zPhysical therapy is rendered in a number of ways. Therapy can involve the students own movement atop the horse, or may involve the student learning from the horse’s movements. While sitting in the saddle, students can feel the movement of the horse’s hips and legs which mimic the student’s own motion of walking. Many paralyzed people have relearned to walk because of the kinetic benefit of hippotherapy.

Students practice different kinds of physical therapy atop the horse to improve motor control. There are arm movements in many directions that aid muscle development as well as cognitive improvement. Another muscle development exercise involves leaning back far enough to touch the horse’s tail or leaning forward to touch the horse’s ears.

Grooming is a method to increase positive self-esteem and it gives kids a sense of responsibility. In some instances, students start out with direction from teachers on how to groom their horse and eventually graduate to grooming the horse by themselves or directing another student.

During the therapy sessions there are certified therapists assisting students while in, on and around the horses. No student is ever left alone unless the hippotherapy therapist okays the alone time.

Where To Find Hippotherapy

Hippotherapy programs can be found both in rural areas and city centers; indeed, any place that has enough space to accommodate a large steel building or steel barn. Conduct a Google search to find Equestrian Therapy programs in your area.

Start Your Own Hippotherapy Program

If there’s no hippotherapy program in your neck of the woods and equestrian therapy has helped your family, why not start your own program? All it takes are some talented therapists, a hand-full of gentle horses and a place to get them all together! Multi-use equestrian arenas that include offices and tack rooms are a speciality of Armstrong Steel. We’d love to help you get your local Equestrian-Assisted Activity and Therapy Program started.

Photo courtesy: Adrian Parnham, vastateparkstaff, Fort Meade Public Affairs

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