website should not
be construed as medical or therapy advice and is provided only as
general information. Please consult your physician and other health
professionals for specific advice.
All ideas reflect the creative spirit of the author, Barbara Smith
OTR/L and bear no relationship to her current employer.
only be performed by trained and registered occupational,
physical and speech therapists.
Hippotherapy is a
treatment tool used
to improve strength, postural control, balance and motor planning
Riding a horse provides
powerful sensory stimulation that effects attention, emotions, language and
for therapists, instructors, families, riders and others interested in promoting skills
using the horse as a
treatment tool. Share your stories and expertise. Hippotherapy
also promotes hand skills
Photo is property
and may not be used without permission Activities such as inserting parts into
Mr. Potato Head or connecting
pop-it-beads develop hand strength, motor planning and bilateral
stacks develop eye-hand coordination and visual attention. This cat toy
with a squeaky mouse is light and easy to hold.
Stabilizing the toy
while placing rings challenges eye-hand coordination and motor
planning. This "Princess Wand" vibrates, makes sounds and has flashing
lights- making a simple ring stack activity more fun.
for toys challenges balance and coordination. This boy
is using a magnet wand to reach for a plastic fish with paper clip
Positioning this ring stack behind the child promotes trunk rotation
and visual attention. The ring stack is attached to a door snake used
to stop drafts.
child can reach into a basket to retrieve puzzle pieces. The basket
is attached with a shower clip to the handle.
This child demonstrates good skills to stabilize the toy sword
while reaching to insert plastic rectangular shapes. Positioning the
shapes to fit over the sword develops visual perceptual skills.
Facing sideways on
the horse provides
different sensory stimulation and works the lateral trunk muscles.
Playing with this toy is helping this girl rotate her trunk and use
both hands together.
toys attached with velcro from a
bottle is very motivating and promotes using both hands together.
Children develop eye-hand coordination as they insert them into the
enlarged opening on top. Target
Throwing into a
basket or playing catch challenges balance and eye-hand coordination.
can stand with feet
supported in stirrups while reaching for a ball held high up. This
large folding laundry basket makes it easy to roll the ball into the
Shown here is one of
the many types of target and toss activities that can be performed
while sitting on a horse.
Hoops can be
tossed over cones while the child is different positions such as facing
backwards or while over the horse's barrel in prone (on the belly).
This activity promotes strong neck, shoulders and arms, bilateral
grasping and visual attention.
stacks placed on the ground also develop eye-hand coordination while
reaching out of the base of support.
Some photographs have been altered to
identify of children and facilities.
Grasping the handle or reins promotes
bilateral hand use
and toleration for touch
Handles varies in size and are chosen
according to how much support
the child needs.
This large handle gives much support.
has right and left handles.
It promotes using both hands
Photo is property
and may not be
used without permission
The smaller handle on the natural ride provides
less support. It is easier for the rider to bring
her leg over this smaller handle during position
is more challenging since
they do not provide support as a handle
Riders can also work on balance by
using pads that have only a strap to hold
or riding bareback. The rider can grasp
the mane for some support, but needs to
use the trunk and leg muscles to remain
centered with good postural control. The
warmth of the horse's body and greater tactile (touch) stimulation
provided by bareback riding can make it very enjoyable and therapeutic.
on the belly over the horse's barrel provides
a different sensory experience while strengthening
the neck, shoulders and arm muscles. Providng a
large ring promotes bilateral hand use as he engages
in the eye hand coordination task of tossing the ring
over a bucket.
Children develop motor planning skills as
they pull the
reins to turn left or right. I teach the children to pull the reins to
at junctions and then we discuss which
direction they would like to go. Weaving around
cones provides another opportunity to steer
reins and learn the association between pulling
to turn in the same
direction. Controlling the
reins to steer also encourages crossing midline
discriminating left and right.
10-15 minutes children
more focused and ready for a challenging fine-motor
activity such a lacing board.
is made from cardboard with a picture of a horse
attached with clear contact paper. Four large wholes were cut for
This girl is
opening a zipper to remove
sunglasses from a case. She likes helping
her therapist get her sunglasses.
This Velcro Scratch ball is placed inside
a mesh bag and attached with string to the mitt.
Children with difficulty grasping can simply
pull the ball off the mitt. This adapted hand activity
can be use to motivate the rider to reach in
different directions and heights.
A towel is
placed across the horse's rump.
It has pockets sewn to each side to insert
or remove objects.
This child is
opening "button squares".
are made by sewing a large piece of plastic
(with punched holes) to a blue square cloth.
The red square cloth has a button hole cut.
Tape is attached to the button hole to prevent
unraveling. This child will open the squares, place the red square
in the red pocket and the blue square in the blue pocket. He can
do this while the horse is moving.
up of button
The red and blue halves can be opened
and sorted by color.
Folding and opening the basket used for
insertions tasks is a great motor planning
on fine-motor skills by
performing horse related tasks while off
horse. In this picture a girl is hanging
up the horse's neck strap on a hook.
Children may be able to clip or unclip the
reins, brush the horse, put away toys and
hang up the gait belt and helmet,
cards are attached with
velcro to a
board. Children pull them off and insert them
into the can. This activity encourages reaching
out of the base of support, language as children
name the pictures and motor planning to fit
the card into the slit.
can be made more exciting by
making them motorized. In this case the
brush from an electric toothbrush was
removed and inserted inside the can. The
sound and slight vibration holds children's
attention. Squiggly writer pens with the
points removed also work well. These
can be inserted into the "Velcro bottle" shown at left and
inside ring stacks.
or other fine-motor toys can be
hidden in the arena so
need to say "whoa", pull the reins or
indicate in a different way that they
want to stop the horse to retreive
puzzles can be
used for communication and visual
pictures in the board
are ideal so that children know what
to look for as they scan the arena looking
for the needed puzzle piece.
a puzzle or peg board develops
eye-hand coordination. This is most
done while the child sits facing backwards.
The puzzle pieces
are attached to the box
lid with Velcro so that children can reach
balance while pulling them off.
activity involves removing the named animal
picture (attached with
velcro) or matching it to
the picture on the board.
A child chooses an
animal and then finds
the matching picture hanging on the wall in
the arena. The child might be asked to make
the horse stop in front of the picture, reach
up high to grasp it or simply make the
corresponding animal sound when passing
the picture. These activities teach the child to attend, scan the room,
matching pictures and follow multi-step directions.
therapists may use picture cards to provide directions or ask the child
to point to or remove a picture to choose an activity such brushing
the horse, playing with toys, going outside or trotting.