FAQs for Therapists

FAQs for the therapist

What Is Hippotherapy?

The term hippotherapy refers to how occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech-language pathology professionals use evidence-based practice and clinical reasoning in the purposeful manipulation of equine movement as a therapy tool to engage sensory, neuromotor and cognitive systems to promote functional outcomes.

Best practice dictates that occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech-language pathology professionals integrate hippotherapy into the patient’s plan of care, along with other therapy tools and/or strategies.

Why is it called hippotherapy?

“Hippos” was the ancient Greek word for horse. Hippotherapy literally means ‘treatment with the help of a horse’.

Why the horse?

The horse’s movement has much to offer the patient and is a powerful tool. The horse should have the capability of providing medical quality movement. The movements are multi-dimensional, and in many ways are similar to movements that a human makes. By experiencing the horse’s very organized movement, the patient has plenty of opportunity to practice the ‘right way’ to sequence movement for tasks like walking. The horse takes, on average, 100 steps per minute or 3000 steps during 30 minutes of equine movement.  That practice, which is naturally variable, is key to learning or re-learning tasks.  

The horse also offers sensory input, particularly proprioceptive, vestibular, tactile and visual, as he moves the patient through space. That multi-channel input, which happens simultaneously with the biomechanical input, helps to regulate an otherwise disordered sensory system. The AHA, Inc.’s Conceptual Framework and multiple research papers help to explain the reasons that equine movement has such a powerful impact on the patient in treatment.    

How is hippotherapy different from horseback riding?

Hippotherapy is the opportunity for the patient to absorb and benefit from the movement of the horse, with improved function as the goal. The patient is not in control of the horse, rather the horse professional on the team controls the movement under the therapist’s direction.  

Horseback riding, in contrast, is the rider controlling the horse to the best of their ability. It is a horsemanship discipline and may have social, recreational, or healthful benefits while the individual is learning how to ride.   

Is hippotherapy scope of practice?  

Yes, the American Occupational Association (AOTA), American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), and the American Speech-Language-Hearing (ASHA) have all stated that hippotherapy/skilled equine movement is within the scope of practice for OT, PT, and SLP practitioners. Please click here to view  copies of these letters. The use of equine movement as a treatment tool has been acknowledged by these professional organizations for more than 30 years and therefore is no longer considered investigational but is mainstream practice for the licensed professional. 

Are there age restrictions for the patient?

The treating therapist will determine at what age the inclusion of hippotherapy may be appropriate for the patient. Consideration for the youngest patients may include assessing developmental status as well as having the appropriate treatment team, including a horse with gradable movement. AHA, Inc. recommends that the therapist working with children under 3 years old have their HPCS certification and significant experience in Early Intervention.

There is no upper age limit for the patient and, in fact, many elders have benefitted from the movement, exercise, and balance training provided by the horse that is low impact and skillfully applied by the therapist.

What evidence is available to support hippotherapy?  

There are more than 100 articles in peer reviewed publications investigating hippotherapy across many patient populations. The research includes hippotherapy used prospectively as a treatment tool, as a viable intervention included in meta-analysis, and as the treatment in single-subject case studies. This work has been published internationally, gaining ground over the last 30 years. Click here for the AHA, Inc. Bibliography and Reference List. 

Where can I find resources on terminology for clarity in communication and documentation?

The AHA, Inc. routinely updates our Terminology for Healthcare document to include comprehensive explanations of terminology related to hippotherapy. This helps to ensure that you are using the most up-to-date terminology in documentation, social media, and marketing materials. 

Where do I find educational courses that would allow me to start integrating hippotherapy into my clinical practice?

The AHA, Inc. offers a foundational series, Hippotherapy Treatment Principles Part I and Part II. These courses include the basic theory and treatment principles for the licensed healthcare professional interested in incorporating hippotherapy into their clinical practice.  

For a full list of AHA, Inc. courses and any prerequisites required, click here

Are CEUs available for AHA, Inc educational offerings?   

The AHA, Inc. is a continuing education (CE) Approved Provider for the American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. (AOTA) and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) for Hippotherapy Treatment Principles Part I and Part II, the International Conference and other AHA educational events. Multiple state physical therapy boards have approved CEUs for physical therapy professionals. Questions regarding CE units may be directed to the AHA office.

What is the process for certification?  

All certification is conducted through the American Hippotherapy Certification Board. The AHCB currently offers two levels of certification exams: AHCB Hippotherapy Certification Exam for OT, OTA, PT, PTA, SLP, and SLPA professionals and the Hippotherapy Clinical Specialist Exam for PT, OT, and SLP professionals. If you are interested in one of the AHCB certification exams, contact the AHCB directly at [email protected] 

Does AHCB have their own website? 

Yes, the American Hippotherapy Certification Board (AHCB) has their own website with all the information needed regarding certification and exams. 

































































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