Hippotherapy is the portion of an occupational, physical or speech therapy treatment session where a skilled medical professional utilizes a horse as a treatment tool to achieve specific functional therapy goals or outcomes. The horse can help address specific occupational therapy goals including:
With Halloween upon us, please try to be accepting of all of the folks who will be visiting your homes. Keep in mind:
The child who is grabbing more than one piece of candy may have poor fine motor skills.
The child who takes forever to pick out one piece of candy may have motor planning issues.
The child who does not say trick-or-treat or thank you may be non-verbal or have speech delays.
The child who looks disappointed when they see your bowl may have food allergies.
The child who isn’t wearing a costume may have sensory processing issues or autism.
The big boy who seems a little older may be an adult with developmental delays.
Choose your actions and words wisely. Be nice. Be patient.
Helping children develop their fine motor coordination skills is one of the many occupational therapy interventions we offer at OT OuTdoors. Good fine motor skills are required to help kids accomplish the tasks they do on a daily basis: handwriting in class and on homework assignments, getting dressed, tying shoes, buttoning pants, brushing their hair & teeth, eating meals, cleaning up their rooms, and playing with blocks, Legos or doll clothes. The better their fine motor coordination becomes, the more independent and efficient they’ll be in daily living.
Pictured above are a couple of our friends helping our therapy dog Noodles become “spook free.” By using tongs or chopsticks to remove the toy figurines, they are developing their tripod grip (proper grasp required to hold a pencil or utensils) and strengthening their hands and fingers with each pinch. One of the great things about this activity is that it can be done at home and can be modified a number of ways to keep it fun and engaging! Some ideas include:
OT OuTdoors-because life doesn’t happen in a clinic
Playing outdoors is a great learning opportunity for kids of all ages. It fosters exploration, encourages imaginative play and provides great opportunities for kids to practice their motor planning skills. Motor planning is the ability to conceive, plan, and perform a new motor movement as opposed to a habitual one. These are the moments when your body and brain are learning something brand new. Like when one first learns how to skip, get dressed, swing on the monkey bars, climb through a new obstacle course or learn a specific skill for a sport. Motor planning is a skill that we all use throughout the course of our lives. Without this skill, completing the tasks of everyday life would be incredibly frustrating and timing consuming if not impossible!
Motor planning occurs when we efficiently respond to the information within our environment. It allows us to:
Here at OT OuTdoors, we have a variety of activities to help our clients improve their motor planning skills. One of these interventions includes the use of the stump jump on our Sensory Trail. Pictured above is one of our 5 year old friends using the stump jump to work on his motor planning skills. Prior to jumping, he must first understand the requirement of the task (use the stumps to create a path), then formulate and plan his actions (which stumps to use) to cross the path. Once those visual and cognitive planning steps are completed, he then has to figure out how to step, jump, and balance from stump to stump. If he loses his balance his body must adjust in the moment with a postural response to prevent him from falling.
Our fun outdoor treatment space allows “kids to be kids” and inspires them to want to work on their motor planning skills. Practicing in this natural environment allows them to efficiently transfer these learned skills to their own play environments like the playground, balancing on a wall along a board walk, or at home on their play structure.
OT OuTdoors-because life doesn’t happen in a clinic
You may be wondering, “What exactly is hippotherapy?” Misleading in name, hippotherapy has nothing to do with hippopotamuses (“hippo” is the Greek word for horse). Here at OT OuTdoors occupational therapists utilize the movement of the horse as a treatment tool with our clients to promote strength, posture, coordination, sustained attention and sensory processing. Why a horse? Equine movement is “multidimensional, provides a client’s body with motor and sensory input, can be manipulated, and is rhythmic, low amplitude, consistent and sustainable” (American Hippotherapy Association). Paired with other occupational therapy interventions, it helps a client develop functional skills, like riding a tricycle or bicycle.
Participating in a family bike ride is a goal for one of our clients here at OT OuTdoors. She is working on improving her balance, strength, and learning to use the muscles required to pedal her tricycle. How does hippotherapy come into play? The horse automatically stimulates some of the muscle patterns that are required for bike riding, like reciprocal patterning. The horse’s movement internally establishes the rhythm and timing she needs to pedal. Having the client sit on the horse in different positions is also a technique the therapist can use. Each position offers different balance and strengthening opportunities. The therapist can also utilize and manipulate tack (riding equipment) to specifically strengthen and prepare certain muscle groups.
For our tricycle riding friend, using the positions of forward and side sitting allow us, as therapists, to assist her in achieving her goal. While riding forward the use of stirrups provide strengthening and feedback to and from her feet, legs and abdominals. With each foot fall of the horse, pressure is inputted into the stirrups, therefore her entire leg. First activating these muscles on horseback sets her up perfectly for engaging those same muscles when needing to push the pedals of her trike! Having her ride side sitting on the horse employs similar concepts. This position requires the client to engage her lower abdominals to help maintain balance. This in turn strengthens and prepares her lower abdominals to initiate pushing on the bike pedals and fires up her righting reactions to maintain balance.
The magnificent horse, the perfect occupational therapy treatment tool for learning to ride a bike!
OT OuTdoors "... because life doesn’t happen in a clinic"
Sara Martinez OTAS Level II Fieldwork Student
and Carrie R. Jacobs M,OTR/L