What is the Difference Between Hippotherapy and Equine Therapy?

Are you looking into equine therapy? Do you want to know the difference between equine therapy and hippotherapy?

From autism to ADHD to Down syndrome and more, people of all ages have benefitted from horseback riding therapy. This type of therapy can treat multiple conditions, from stimulating the brain to activating the use of muscles.

Meanwhile, horseback riding therapy is broken into two different categories: equine therapy and hippotherapy. Once you understand the difference between the two therapies, deciding which one is best for your kids’ specific needs is a lot easier.

What is Equine Therapy

Equine therapy is also sometimes called Equine-Assisted Therapy (EAT). This type of horseback riding therapy involves a treatment that uses equine activities to promote physical and emotional growth for individuals who are diagnosed with various disorders.

The therapy focuses on addressing mental health and is helpful for individuals with developmental delays, anxiety, depression, ADHD, dementia, and more. The patients will take care of horses in a stable setting. By doing so, they can address their mental and emotional challenges. In addition, it helps reduce mental health disorders’ symptoms.

During the therapy seasons, patients may work with horses or ride them while the mental health professional help them process particular emotions. In addition, the patients learn the different aspects of horse care, such as riding, saddling, and grooming.

Who is this for?

Equine-assisted activities serve as an ideal therapeutic approach for groups, families, adults, teens, and children. Here are some disorders or conditions that respond well with equine therapy:

  • Down Syndrome
  • Autism, Asperger’s
  • Learning challenges
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Behavior disorder
  • Eating disorder
  • Trauma
  • Stress, anxiety, PTSD, depression
  • Substance use disorder

Benefits of Equine Therapy

Equine Therapy is meant to complement conventional approaches for a specific situation and should be led by a licensed and certified Equine-assisted therapist. The interaction between the patient and the horse unlocks the blocked emotions. In return, they are being processed and healed.

Below are several ways people can benefit from equine therapy:

  • Reduced anxiety
  • Increased trust
  • Less feeling of isolation and depression
  • Increased self-acceptance, self-esteem, and social skills
  • Improved problem-solving skills
  • Better impulse control
  • Improve communication skills
  • A better understanding of the importance of assertiveness and healthy boundaries

The therapy is effective for children with coordination problems, motor control issues, behavioral tics, and cerebral palsy.

What is Hippotherapy

The Greek word “Hippos” means horse, and hippotherapy is a therapeutic approach that uses horses. The therapy addresses mental health but also applies to physical developments to strengthen bodily functions using a horse.

The therapy uses the horses’ movements to create neurological changes. As a result, coordination, strength, balance, and posture are improved. During therapy sessions, the patients ride the horses to address their physical health.

Hippotherapy is designed based on the concept the individuals and variable cadence, repetition, rhythm, tempo, and gait of the horse’s movements influence neuromuscular development in humans. It triggers a series of complex mental and physical reactions, including physical adjustments to keep proper alignment. Patients also have to plan their movements to maintain balance while riding the horse while interacting with the animal.

Who is this for?

Hippotherapy has positive effects on those with cerebral palsy. The therapy provides interactivity from the horse that leads to bodily responses to anticipate sequencing or movement—individuals with cerebral palsy benefit by improving their gross motor skills and overall body function.

People with language or non-verbal disorders benefit from the therapy in many ways as it creates a fun and exciting environment. During the session, patients have to give direction or communicate with the horse, providing an excellent opportunity to develop communication skills, especially non-verbal.

While riding a horse, patients can improve their vestibular health since they have to be considerate with their balance and spatial awareness. Body parts are triggered by the horse’s movements at different speeds, changing direction, and going from level ground, downhill, or uphill. Coordination is also improved throughout the session.

In some instances, individuals with autism struggle to make eye contact, communicate feelings, and verbally express themselves. Since the therapy involves more of a physical approach as a way of communication, although it encourages verbal communication, it still creates a physical bond of interacting, touching, or hugging the horse.

The essential caregiving for the horses enables the children to build a non-verbal bond through doing compassionate acts like feeding, making eye contact, and brushing. In return, the children’s social lives are improved.

Benefits of Hippotherapy

Interaction with horses lifts the children’s spirit psychologically and emotionally. It also provides critical physical exercise since they learn how to ride the horse appropriately. Horseback riding therapy requires positioning and subtle adjustments to maintain proper posture and balance.

Physical Benefits:

  • Respiratory control
  • Less abnormal muscle tone
  • Improved postural symmetry
  • Control of extremities
  • Trunk core strength
  • Enhanced gross motor skills

Psychological benefits:

  • Improved self-esteem
  • Social interaction opportunities
  • Enjoyable interactions with horses

Cognitive benefits:

  • Improved ability to express needs, thoughts, and feelings
  • Improved grading and timing of responses
  • Tactile response
  • Sensory input
  • Visual coordination
  • Improved attention

The Difference

A lot of people get confused with equine therapy and hippotherapy since they both involve horseback riding in addressing particular issues. However, hippotherapy is more for physical therapy. In addition, the difference between the two therapies is how to encompass different practices and movements are performed in different ways using the same techniques.


As a parent or a teacher of kids with unique needs, you want to ensure that they get the love and care they deserve. So, it’s no surprise why you are eager to give them the best therapy for them. The beginning stages of hippotherapy and equine therapy can be difficult for the kids. However, as long as you are at their side and feel your support, they can reap the therapy benefits. After the therapy, they will have more control over their environment. Plus, any of the two therapies can improve the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of their lives.

REST: Because it works

It’s time to put REST into your life. And take advantage of all of the benefits equine motion has to offer any time, any place. At Gait, we firmly believe it will be a powerful, rewarding, and effective tool for helping treat your special needs child, children, or adult.


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