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Equine Therapy is both Therapeutic and Fun!!

Updated: Oct 27, 2023


Jonny with Horse
Jonny's new companion

During the first years of Jonny’s recovery journey while working with traditional physical therapy one of his therapists mentioned horse therapy, otherwise known as equine therapy or Hippotherapy. She suggested it might be worth a try to help him strengthen his core muscles, posture, and balance. At the time we were not able to find any place around us offering this type of therapy to adults with complex issues like Jonny’s.


However, in 2020 we moved to California. Since all physical therapy centers were shut down at the time due to COVID restrictions, I started looking for alternative outdoor therapy ideas and remembered that previous conversation about horse therapy. This idea was appealing to me because equine therapy is both therapeutic and fun! I am a strong believer that an enjoyable experience is an essential ingredient for best results. I looked into it and sure enough, there was a place in operation within a twenty-minute drive. The first difficulty I had to overcome was that he would need a doctor's signature on the forms in order to participate. This took a little work on my part, as his doctor was understandably a little skeptical about the risks involved in riding horses. I went to the internet and did some research into the benefits, the procedures, staff training, and safety measures. I then e-mailed the articles and information I found to his doctor, made another appointment, said a prayer, and waited. After some discussion and a promise to send photos and video updates his doctor gave us her support, signed the paperwork, and we started on our journey with horse therapy.


The Adventure with Jonny Begins


I decided to write on this topic for my very first blog post because of the benefits Jonathan has experienced. I want to bring awareness to this type of therapy as many are not aware that riding horses is a therapy option. This therapy can have immense benefits for those with disabilities and it is available to you even if you use a wheelchair and or have other limited mobility. Jonathan not only is wheelchair-bound but also does not have use of the left side of his body, has limited use of the right side, has slower mental processing speed, has difficulty with communication, muscle spasticity, balance issues, and susceptibility to generalized fatigue. With these limitations and the use of the wheelchair ramp, he is able to mount a therapy horse and ride with the supervision of the therapy assistants who work with the equine therapy coach. An assistant walks along each side of the horse for safety and balance and another leads the horse. The therapy horses are extremely gentle and slow and go through rigorous evaluations before any use with clients.





Equine therapy

Equine therapy, also known as horse therapy or hippotherapy, is used to help people with various needs and disabilities. Below is a breakdown of the different types and uses of this kind of therapy.


Therapeutic Riding


Therapeutic riding is the type of horse therapy that Jonny participates in. It is a recreation-based therapy that has been shown to be effective for people with a wide range of physical and cognitive disabilities, including cerebral palsy, spina bifida, Down syndrome, autism, brain injury, developmental delays, visual and hearing impairments, and learning disorders. The movement of the horse stimulates the rider's nervous system, which can help improve posture, balance, and coordination. Riding also provides a sense of independence and freedom for people who may have limited mobility. Most importantly, in my opinion, this in turn adds fun and recreation to one’s life.


Hippotherapy


Hippotherapy is very similar to therapeutic riding however, the focus is on patient outcomes rather than recreation. “Hippotherapy is integrated into physical, occupational, or speech therapy. It is part of a one-on-one medical treatment. It focuses on specific patient outcomes. A doctor's prescription is required, and treatment depending on your insurance benefits can be covered by health insurance.” (Childrensthraplay.org).

Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP)


EAP is used to help people with various mental health needs. The presence of a horse can assist people by helping them to feel more relaxed and comfortable. It is often used in combination with traditional talk therapy. EAP programs have been used in schools, youth programs, and even corporate settings. Activities such as grooming and leading a horse can help develop trust, respect, and empathy. It has been used to help people who struggle with criminal behavior and addictions learn new coping skills and behaviors.


Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP)


EFP is similar to EAP but is focused on the therapeutic relationship between the horse and the patient or client. The therapist may use activities such as grooming, leading, and or riding to help the patient develop new coping skills and behaviors. EFP is used to treat conditions such as anxiety, depression, and trauma.


Horseplay Therapeutic Riding in Dixon, CA


Jonny rides at Horseplay Therapeutic Riding in Dixon, CA, and has had a rewarding experience with horse therapy. The benefits of the various types of equine therapy are many and help riders and non-riders alike. Improvements can be seen in many areas of a person's life from physical improvements to cognitive improvements and psychological and emotional healing. These in turn can improve quality of life. If you are interested in pursuing alternative therapy options, I highly recommend looking into horse therapy / equine therapy options in your area. I recommend that you choose a place in your area associated with the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International.



Son on horse with mom at side
Jonny and me at Equine therapy




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