Benefits of Equine (Hippo) Therapy

May 4, 2016

Asperger’s and Autism are sub-categories of a larger disorder category called Pervasive Developmental Disorders. The characteristics are similar in that children and adults have difficulty with communication, social interactions and some physical impairments. Therapies for Autism and Asperger’s include endless hours of physical and occupational therapy as well as behavior therapy. While research into animal assisted therapy is fairly new, there is a general consensus that therapy animals can be a highly beneficial addition to treatment programs for children with autism or Asperger’s.

Equine assisted therapy also called Hippo-therapy (derived from the Greek word “hippo” for horse) seems to have excellent results. Horses are used by physical, speech, and occupational therapists to reach their patients on a personal level. Let’s look closer at the overall benefits of equine or hippo therapy for use with children and young adults with any of the Pervasive Developmental Disorders.

  • Sensory Benefits – The rhythmic motion of riding a horse causes the children to focus on the movement – which is slow, deliberate, and relaxing. Not only does this help children focus but also improves balance and spatial orientation. The rhythmic movement can help loosen tight muscles, build muscle strength, and helps build coordination and body awareness.
  • Emotional and Social Bonding – Many Autistic children have difficulty bonding emotionally to others and socializing in traditional ways. Rather than verbal communication, autistic children experience physical communication with the horses. They learn to brush, hug, and pat the horses appropriately. By caring for the horses children build emotional and social bonds with the animals and their handlers. The excitement of riding encourages speech when the rider wants to communicate with the therapist and the horse.
  • Cognitive and Language Development – Children on the autism spectrum often have difficulty with multilevel directions and cognitive concepts. Working with horses allows children and young adults to deal with directions and concepts in a hands-on manner which makes the child more motivated and willing to cooperate. Equine therapy offers a safe, secure environment where a therapist or other staff person will be close at hand as new skills are learned.

According to Equine Therapy online, “Children who start to isolate themselves have become more open as a result of equine assisted therapy. Often, they begin making eye contact with the animal first, then with other people. Soon after that, the child often becomes more relationally open; again, with the animal first, then with people.”