For me the word hippotherapy conjures up a cartoon image of a hippopotamus sprawled out on a psychiatrist's sofa. But in fact it has nothing to do with hippos. It's derived from the Greek hippos (horse), and literally refers to treatment or therapy aided by a horse.
Hippotherapy rose to prominence in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland in the 1960s, as an adjunct to traditional physical therapy. A specially trained horse and horse handler applied the practices of physiotherapy to the horse's gait, tempo and cadence. These movements were carefully modulated to induce neuromuscular changes in the patient (rider).
Today hippotherapy is used to treat patients with a broad range of neurological and other disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Down syndrome, spinal cord injury, and behavioral disorders.
If you have ever witnessed equine-assisted activities first hand, you know that there is a special bond formed – an exchange of trust and caring between the rider and the horse. In my opion this bond creates a feeling of emotional wellbeing that is just as important to the patient as the physical aspects of the treatment.
For older horses, these programs can be a kind of emotional rebirth – a second chance to put their years of experience and patience to work in aiding these handicapped riders.
In 2013 Shenanigan Books will release a new title Journey written by sisters, Lisa Chambers and Jennifer Walters, which describe the life of one such horse.