"Hippo what? Does that mean you have a hippopotamus at the barn?" The answer is in a way - yes!
Hippo is actually the Greek word for horse. And Hippopotamus translates into 'river horse'.
Hippotherapy, therefore, is a form of physical therapy that uses the movement of a horse to treat several cognitive and/or developmental impairments in humans.
The movement of a horse's pelvis is very similar to that of a human's and research has shown that by riding a horse, humans often gain a better understanding of their own bodies. Basically, riding a horse can help train the human brain and nervous system to have better coordination, balance, and motor control. For folks who are struggling to develop these skills in their everyday life, hippotherapy offers a somewhat sneaky way of providing 'treatment', especially for children who often resist other types of 'medicine' so to speak.
While hippotherapy is applied using mounted riding lessons and activities, the goal of the therapy is not to successfully impart horsemanship skills. The goal is to create an opportunity for a rider to be influenced by the movement of a horse. That means that any time a rider of any sort is doing any activity while astride their horse, they are in effect receiving the benefits of hippotherapy.
Hippotherapy can be accessible to any age of rider given the appropriate equipment, support, and safety precautions. For especially small, young, or physically limited riders it may be necessary to have side walkers to support their balance and therefore safety while mounted. It is also imperative to have a very tolerant and properly trained horse who reacts slowly and thoughtfully.
Other riders may be able to ride independently during their hippotherapy sessions and may be participating in a program that looks much more like a typical riding lesson. Those details are of no consequence to the direct benefits of this particular therapy however, so enjoy!
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