Hippotherapy: Therapeutic Horseback Riding

What Is Hippotherapy?

Hippotherapy, also known as equine-assisted therapy or therapeutic riding, provides therapy to children and adults with disabilities including, but not limited to:

Therapeutic riding is a special training program in which children with disabilities learn horse-riding skills. Medical doctors, physical therapists, educators, psychotherapists. and other professionals have come to recognize the numerous physical, psychological, and social benefits of hippotherapy.

What Are the Benefits of Hippotherapy?

Physical benefits can include:

  • Improved balance
  • Improved strength
  • Stimulation of unused muscles
  • Improved coordination
  • Improved gross-motor skills
  • Improved fine-motor skills
  • Improved sensory processing
  • Improved social skills


Children with mood disorders and neurodevelopmental disorders benefit in concentration and language development. There are many stories of children who spoke their first words ever on horseback, likely because of the vestibular stimulation that hippotherapy provides.  In many children, riding therapy can boost confidence and self-esteem while fostering greater independence.

Because learning riding skills provides multi-task learning, there can be “carryover” into other areas such as daily living skills. One little boy, while participating in therapeutic riding for eight weeks, concurrently made improvements in other areas. For example, his fine motor skills improved. For the first time, he was able to zip his coat. Few other activities can give the person with a disability such a feeling of complete freedom, body awareness in space, and independence of others.

Hippotherapy promotes neurological development and sensory processing because it stimulates many sensory modalities including the proprioceptive, tactile, auditory, visual, and the vestibular senses. It improves sitting and standing balance, hand grasp and reach, coordination, social skills, and motor planning skills.

It simulates righting and equilibrium reactions normal postural adjustment and position. Therapeutic riding meets most criteria for aerobic exercise and low level cardiovascular conditioning.

Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH)

PATH International, formerly knowns as North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NAHRA), is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote and support therapeutic horseback riding programs throughout the United States and Canada. Since 1969, PATH has helped therapeutic riding programs flourish throughout  this country. There are more than 500 PATH member centers ranging from small, one-person programs to large operations with several instructors and therapists.

Other activities offered besides hippotherapy are driving, vaulting, trail riding, and competition. PATH support includes providing the membership with standards, accreditation, certification, education resources and published materials they need to serve their community full. Members represent a cross-section of individuals from various fields, disciplines and professions associated with therapeutic riding.

The International Therapeutic Riding Congress is an exciting opportunity for riders, volunteers, and professionals in the field of therapeutic riding to share experiences from around the world. PATH holds an annual conference every November. This conference is an opportunity for individuals in the filed to come together and exchange ideas and experiences.

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PATH International