Many children find even the simplest task of interacting with others daunting. Alexandra Dingman, who works with autistic children, sees this struggle daily; but she also sees a brighter future for these children. She explains, “Though it is rare for Jonah to talk directly with humans, he will talk to horses and even the barn dog.” Dingman sees this progress and hope in Equine Therapy, and emerging area of study that can help autistic patients or anyone with a disability, even those who can’t walk. Benjamin elucidates, “Hippotherapy literally means treatment with the help of a horse, from the Greek word hippos meaning horse” (2). Researchers have just recently begun to study how this type of therapy affects patients. Hippotherapy, also referred to as equine therapy, is a therapeutic solution that involves the interaction between horses and patients, whether it includes horseback riding or simple physical contact. According to Bass, “Animal assisted therapy, defined as using animals within a goal oriented setting to implement treatment, has been shown to significantly benefit cognitive, psychological, and social domains” (1). Due to overwhelmingly positive results, I believe that equine therapy is a viable option for helping those with autism, or similar disorders, to improve social skills, and helping those with physical disabilities that hinder or prevent them from using basic motor skills.
According to research, hippotherapy has been highly successful in improving motor skills in patients. There are many different aspects of equine therapy that can improve motor skills. Some of the techniques involved in hippotherapy that can improve motor skills are performed while mounted on the back of a horse. While a patient is on a horse, one of the main areas affected is balance. Researcher Greg Borzo furthers the claim that equine therapy can greatly improve a patient’s motor skills. Borzo confirms “a horse’s rhythmic, repetitive movements work to improve muscle tone, balance, posture, coordination, strength, flexibility and cognitive skills” (2). The movements also generate responses in the patient that are similar to and essential for walking. In addition, adjusting to and accommodating for the horse’s movements increases sensorimotor integration,” (Borzo 8). Because of these benefits to balance and coordination, equine therapy is a viable option for those relearning how to walk, or even those patients who are trying to learn to walk on prosthetic legs. In the article, “Hoof Prints,” Dingman argues that even outside of the actual therapy time spent with a horse, motor skills can be improved. Carrying tack, cleaning stalls, and the general laborious activities that come with tending for a horse can help patients progress their motor skills and get exercise that they would otherwise not have an opportunity to participate in. Yet another benefit on motor skills from equine therapy is the wide range of diversity that is not offered in a traditional therapy setting. Yee- Pay Wuang explains that the boredom that can accompany traditional methods can create a hindrance to progress. Hippotherapy overcomes this hindrance. Joann Benjamin believes that with continued study and research “the possibilities of using the strategy are endless, as the input from the movement of the horse is so strong, and provides such a variety of sensory-motor experiences,” (6).
Hippotherapy has also proven to have very positive outcomes on social skills. Equine therapy is a completely viable option as a treatment for the correction and improvement of social skills. Social interaction can be one of the most difficult areas for children suffering from autism to overcome, and it is an area that has been causing suffering to these children and their families for far too long. By participating in Equine therapy, patients begin to form a bond, or friendship, with the horse they interact with. This bond can serve as a stepping- stone to form