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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

Research on Hippotherapy

Jun 01, 2014 11:42PM ● By Jennifer McDermott

Hippotherapy is an isolated physical therapy, occupational therapy or speech therapy used by a trained therapist, provided by the movement of a horse. Currently The Horse and Human Research Foundation and The American Hippotherapy Association are the most active in this field and award grants internationally.  One study, available on YouTube, is through Washington University and spearheaded by Dr. Timothy Shurtleff, OTD, OTR/L.mHis research maps the head and core body movement of children with cerebral palsy before and after 12 weeks of hippotherapy. Not only do these children strive to do more when working with the horses, they retain substantial core muscle development for up to several months after they cease going to therapy.   

According to the study, the children’s bodies are challenged up to 5,000 times during a 45-minute session.  However, Shurtleff points out that this study does not fulfill the high standard study requirements that insurance companies need. 

The effects of hippotherapy on children with autism are equally compelling. Many of these children on the autism spectrum are kinetic learners. The horse gives them the motion they need to learn and grow. The movie Horse Boy chronicles one autistic boy’s journey to Mongolia which is where horses reportedly first reached out to man. While horse riding is included in a physical therapist’s “toolbox,” along with balls, water, weights and other tools, many parents, educators and researchers view it as a separate, effective therapy tool that their children look forward to participating in. 


Jennifer McDermott lives in Guilford and devotes herself to the rehabilitation of the Off the Track Thoroughbred.