Equine Assisted/Facilitated Therapies

Equine assisted therapy is medical treatment that incorporates equine activities and/or the equine environment. Rehabilitative goals are related to the patient’s needs and the medical professional’s standards of practice. Only a medical profession, (ie physical/occupational therapist, speech and language pathologist, psychologist or social worker) licensed and/or certified in the state of Massachusetts can provide these treatments. There are two sub-categories for these therapies: Hippotherapy – treatment is provided by an occupational or physical therapist or speech and language pathologist Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy – treatment is provided by a licensed mental health professional.

Hippotherapy >>  Equine Facilitated Psychology >>


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The term hippotherapy refers to the use of the movement of the horse as a treatment strategy by physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech/language pathologists to address impairments, functional limitations and disabilities in patients with neuromotor and sensory dysfunction. This treatment strategy is used as part of an integrated treatment program to achieve functional goals.

Equine movement provides multi-dimensional movement, which is variable, rhythmic and repetitive. The horse provides a dynamic base of support, making it an excellent tool for increasing trunk strength and control, balance, building overall postural strength and endurance, addressing weight bearing, and. motor planning. Equine movement offers well-modulated sensory input to vestibular, proprioceptive, tactile and visual channels. During gait transitions, the patient must perform subtle adjustments in the trunk to maintain a stable position. When a patient is sitting forward astride the horse, the horse's walking gait imparts movement responses remarkably similar to normal human gait. The effects of equine movement on postural control, sensory systems, and motor planning can be used to facilitate coordination and timing, grading of responses, respiratory control, sensory integration skills and attentional skills. Equine movement can be used to facilitate the neurophysiologic systems that support all of our functional daily living skills.

Therapists, who have received additional training in hippotherapy, evaluate each potential patient on an individual basis to determine the appropriateness of including hippotherapy as a treatment strategy. The therapy professional works closely with the horse professional to manipulate various aspects of the horse's movement, position, management style, equipment and types of activities to generate effective remediation protocols and to promote functional outcomes.

Physical Therapists: The physical therapist can overlay a variety of motor tasks on the horse's movement to address the motor needs of each patient and to promote functional outcomes in skill areas related to gross motor ability such as sitting, standing, and walking.

Occupational Therapists: The occupational therapist is able to combine the effects of the equine movement with other standard intervention strategies for working on fine motor control, sensory integration, feeding skills, attentional skills, and functional daily living skills in a progressively challenging manner.

Speech-Language Pathologists: The speech-language pathologist is able to use equine movement to facilitate the physiologic systems that support speech and language. When combined with other standard speech-language intervention strategies, the speech-language pathologist is able generate effective remediation of communication disorders and promote functional communication outcomes.

Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP)

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Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy is defined as a form of experiential psychotherapy that includes equine(s). It may include, but is not limited to, a number of mutually beneficial equine activities such as handling, grooming, longeing, riding, driving, and vaulting. Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy is a treatment approach within the classification of Equine Assisted Therapy that provides the client with opportunities to enhance self-awareness and re-pattern maladaptive behaviors, feelings and attitudes.

Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy both promotes personal exploration of feelings and behaviors, and allows for clinical interpretation of these feelings and behaviors. EFP denotes an ongoing therapeutic relationship with clearly established treatment goals and objectives developed by the therapist in conjunction with the client. The therapist must be an appropriately credentialed mental health professional to legally practice psychotherapy and have additional training in EFP.

Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy may be used for people with psycho-social issues and mental health needs that result in any significant variation in cognition, mood, judgment, insight, anxiety level, perception, social skills, communication, behavior, or learning.

Examples include but are not limited to: • Anxiety Disorders • Psychotic Disorders • Mood Disorders • Behavioral Difficulties • Other Mental Illness, such as Schizophrenia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Autism, Receptive or Expressive Language Disorders, Personality Disorders, Depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, etc. • Major Life Changes such as environmental trauma, divorce, grief and loss, etc.