What is Equine or Hippotherapy?

The Equine or hippotherapy Is the treatment that uses the horse as the main instrument to improve neuromuscular, psychological, cognitive and social aspects in children, adolescents and adults with different affections.

Although some doctors are still not convinced of the effectiveness of this treatment to achieve improvements in patients with physical or mental disabilities, in fact numerous scientific studies show positive results, especially in children with cerebral palsy.

Equine therapy

If you want to know more about equine therapy, how it works and what the results can be obtained with this treatment, please read on.

A little history about equine therapy

Did you know that the benefits of riding were already known in the year 460 BC? Hippocrates already mentioned at that time the good effect he observed of the rhythm of the horse on certain patients.

One of the first scientific studies aimed at demonstrating the therapeutic value of equine therapy was carried out in 1875. At that time, a French neurologist surnamed Chassaignac showed that riding on horseback improved the joint movement and muscular control of his patients and that Was particularly beneficial in paraplegic individuals or with neurological disorders.

The world wars generated many disabled people as well, and rehabilitation needs contributed to the search for alternative therapies. And this was how in 1917 the first equine therapy group was formed in the University Hospital of Oxford , To serve disabled World War I veterans.

Horses in first world war

Another development that gave impetus to the development and application of equine therapy was the case of Liz Hartal, a Danish girl who at 16 years of age suffered a severe form of poliomyelitis , Which caused severe physical disabilities.

Liz performed equine therapy as part of her treatment and in the 1952 and 1956 Olympics she won medals in the training discipline. His example caught the attention of everyone and many more people were interested in the beneficial effects of this alternative therapy.

From the 1960s the application of equine therapy gradually extended to Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Norway, England and France. In 1969, it began to be used in the United States, where equine therapy is currently recognized as a valid therapeutic modality.

Today, there are more than 700 centers that develop this activity in the United States.

Characteristics of equine therapy

Within equine therapy there are several variants:


The Hippotherapy Is the activity that uses the movement of the horse when walking and the heat of his body to stimulate neuro-motor functions in patients with cerebral palsy Or other conditions.


The rhythmic impulses and the three-dimensional movement of the horse stimulate the neuro-musculoskeletal system of the patient, achieving notorious motor improvements. The sessions are conducted by a physiotherapist.

In the sessions of passive hippotherapy, the patient does not perform any additional exercise on the horse; Simply adapts to the movement of the animal with the therapist sitting behind, to provide support and align it well during mating.

In active hippotherapy, the therapist adds neuromuscular exercises to stimulate muscle tone, psychomotor coordination and patient balance, among other functions.

Therapeutic riding

Another variant of equine therapy is therapeutic riding. This treatment seeks to use the contact with the horse and the motivation that it generates to improve learning and adaptation problems in patients with different disabilities.

Therapeutic riding

This therapy is capable of improving care, concentration Y Increase motivation , Stimulating all the senses and increasing the independence of the patient.

How does equine therapy work?

The scientific basis of equine therapy is as follows:

Three-dimensional movement

If you observe the movement of a person riding on a walking horse, you will see that it is very similar to the movement of a person walking.

The person mounted on the horse passively performs rhythmic movements of the pelvis and trunk, as if he were walking on his two legs.

This rhythmic movement, with a certain cadence, stimulates the nervous, muscular and skeletal system, producing Endorphins And favoring the Neuronal synapses . This allows brain Identify muscles, limbs, and organs and begin to send signals to them.

In summary, with the movement of the horse it is possible to improve certain motor functions in children with cerebral palsy, for example. And this effect has been scientifically proven in many studies, as you will see later.

riding a horse

To achieve the best results, the movement of the horse must be continuous and rhythmic, the lateral movement must be from one side to another, with the same amplitude, there must be a slight rotation as the leg moves, to the rhythm of the step and There will also be an anterior and posterior pelvic tilt, with a certain cadence.

Psychological effects

The contact and affective communication that is established between the person and the horse Improve self-esteem and confidence Of the patient.

On the other hand, equine therapy is usually performed in open places, outdoors, surrounded by vegetation.

In addition to the exercise, the patients have a moment of recreation, entertainment and social contact, all of which is very beneficial as a stimulus of all the senses, favoring The synapse of neurons In different brain areas.

Who can benefit from equine therapy?

Horse sight

Maybe you're wondering if the person you know would benefit from echinotearpia. This is likely because this treatment can have very positive effects in people with the following conditions:

  • Static lesions of the central nervous system

  • Spastic cerebral palsy.

  • Sequelae of poliomyelitis.

  • Down's Syndrome.

  • Autism .

  • Congenital malformations.

  • Traumatic injuries, amputations.

  • Severe scoliosis.

  • Mental retardation .

  • Phobias, sensory disturbances, addictions.

  • Attention deficit , Hyperactivity, or other behavioral disorders.

It is important to note that for all these cases, equine therapy should not be the only treatment to be followed. While it may be an excellent complement, there must be other basic therapies.

Equine therapy is a non-invasive treatment, which is only contraindicated in patients with allergies to horse hair or other skin conditions, hip dislocation problems, excessive weight, severe osteoporosis, herniated discs or other diseases that prevent the patient from climbing To the horse or stay in it.

What are the possible benefits?

The Andalusian Association of Therapeutic Riding Points out the following benefits of equine therapy:

Psychological or cognitive area

  • Improves self-esteem.

  • Improve the Control of emotions .

  • Power the Self-confidence .

  • Improve attention Y concentration .

  • Increases memory .

Communication and language

  • It improves the gestual and verbal communication.

  • It increases the vocabulary.

  • Improves pronunciation of words and sentence construction.

Psychomotor area

  • Improves the construction of body symmetry.

  • It promotes fine and thick psychomotor coordination.

  • Development of laterality, horizontal and vertical.

Motor area

  • Regulates muscle tone.

  • Inhibits tonic reflexes and associated movements.

  • Incorporation of locomotion pattern.

  • Stabilization of the trunk and head.

  • Increases elasticity, agility and muscle strength.

  • Develops the proprioceptive system.

In addition, from the social point of view, echinotearpy can also be very beneficial, as you have probably already read in previous paragraphs.

With this therapy the patient has the opportunity to interact with other people outside of their school or family environment, to create new friendships, to develop love and respect for animals, among other possibilities.

In other words, equine therapy can be, in addition to a treatment, an opportunity to live new and rewarding experiences.

Scientific studies on echinotearpy

Group horses

Currently, there are many studies that demonstrate the many benefits of equine therapy.

For example, in a study conducted in Dublin, 40 children between 6 and 15 years of age suffering from dyspraxia were studied. Some of these children received six 30-minute sessions of equine therapy, while the others received two 30-minute sessions of audio-visual stimulation.

The results revealed significant improvements in the cognitive functions and mood of the children receiving equinotearpia, although an audiovisual approach to this therapy may also have beneficial effects on this type of patients.

In another study in Korea, 34 children aged 3 to 12 years with spastic cerebral palsy gathered. These children received equine therapy sessions of 45 minutes duration, twice a week, for 8 weeks.

Another group of 21 children with cerebral palsy did not perform this treatment.

After 8 weeks of equine therapy, the children showed great improvement in their gross motor functions. The control group had also improved, but to a lesser extent.

This study concluded that equine therapy really is very useful for improving motor skills in patients of this type and that it is an excellent complement to conventional treatments.

It has also been shown that equine therapy can improve gait parameters in children with cerebral palsy.

In the research you can consult Following this link , The scientists studied a group of 32 children with bilateral spastic cerebral palsy. These children received 30-minute sessions of equine therapy twice a week for 8 weeks.

After this period, all the children showed a significant improvement in walking speed, walking length and pelvic movements.

In conclusion, equine therapy performed by well-trained health professionals, using multidimensional horse movement, can be a very good complement to standard therapy, improving motor skills and balance in patients with cerebral palsy.

Assisted psychotherapy with horses

Assisted psychotherapy with horses

Equine-assisted psychotherapy is a special form of psychological treatment that the horse uses as a therapeutic tool.

This modality helps improve self-esteem, self-confidence, interpersonal communication and self-control in different patients.

Science has shown that equine-assisted psychotherapy, a variant of equinotearpy that focuses on the psychological benefits of contact with the horse, can be beneficial in many cases.

For example, in a University of New Mexico , The response to this treatment of 63 children with histories of abuse and family violence was studied.

All children had behavioral problems and were receiving psychological treatment. On average, they received 19 sessions of assisted psychotherapy with horses, and all showed clear improvements in their behavior after the sessions.

Younger children and those who received the most sessions were the ones who benefited most from this treatment.

Keep in mind if you are going to choose equine therapy

If you think that equine therapy may be a good option for someone in your family, remember that:

  • This activity must be performed by professionals.

For an equine therapy session, the patient should be cared for by at least two people. One must be a person skilled in riding, someone who knows the horse in depth and who will know how to avoid situations that could endanger the patient or how to react if the horse is nervous or scared for some reason.

In addition, the workout should be guided by a physiotherapist specially prepared to perform equine therapy, since there are many important aspects that should be taken into account if you want to achieve the best possible results.

For example, the patient's position on the horse, the rhythm of the movements, the selection of the horse according to the characteristics of the patient, the complementary exercises that can be performed during the session.

  • Security measures

Although in general in the equine therapy sessions saddle is not used to allow a greater contact of the patient with the horse, other safety measures should be taken, such as the use of a helmet and the clear delimitation of the runway where it is going to to work.

In summary, horse therapy can be an excellent complementary treatment option for people with physical or mental disabilities, as long as the sessions are performed by well-trained professionals.

And what experience have you had with equine therapy?


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