The purpose of hippotherapy is to improve the patient's balance, protective reflexes and posture, and motor planning and weight bearing, according to the National Center for Equine Facilitated Therapy. Hippotherapy helps build the patient's endurance and postural support.
Hippotherapy uses the movements of a horse's pelvis and hips to help a patient achieve certain physical goals, though it may also help him achieve cognitive, psychological and behavioral goals, reports CPParent. The therapist uses a specific treatment approach to address the patient's individual needs.
As the patient rides on the horse, he receives variable, rhythmic and repetitive input, states the National Center for Equine Facilitated Therapy. The horse provides dynamic support for the patient. As the horse moves, it provides sensory input to visual, tactile and vestibular systems. As the horse varies its movement, tempo and gait, the patient must adjust his posture to retain balance and remain upright. The patient may sit facing different directions, including forward and backwards. Each position targets a specific physical or cognitive system.
Physical therapists may use hippotherapy to help a patient stand, sit and walk independently, according to the National Center for Equine Facilitated Therapy. Occupational therapists may use hippotherapy to improve the patient's attention and feeding skills. Speech language therapists use the movement of the horse to correct and promote communication, and to support the physiological systems necessary for speech and language development.