Student Blog | Bethany
Hippotherapy Doesn’t Use Hippos
This past week, I had the chance to visit the Altadena Stables to watch hippotherapy. Whenever I talk to someone about hippotherapy, one of the first reactions I get is confusion. Hippotherapy, in fact, does not use hippos, but rather horses. (The hippopotamus’ name is actually derived from the Ancient Greek “river horse,” so the confusion makes sense.) Physical therapists, speech therapists, and yes, even occupational therapists can all use the movement of the horse as a tool for therapy.
When I was ten, I loved horses. I did horse camp during the summer and knew all about the different breeds. But I never imaged that it be something I could begin to pursue as a career. I was able to shadow both a physical therapist and an occupational therapist to see how their sessions were similar. Both used the same horse, the sweet-tempered Cali, and her movements to simulate the same kind of pelvic movement that walking would stimulate. From there, the child on the horse could ride in different positions, from facing sideways and holding their arms out for balance, to doing sit-ups on the horse to strengthen core (while the horse was stationary, of course), and even to riding backwards. There was even an obstacle course with logs and ramps for an added challenge!
It was amazing to see therapy being used everywhere, especially in places where the kids can see therapy more as play than as work. And I re-fell in love with the stables, the smell of horses, and Coco the little donkey, too. Any occupation, any passion can be used to help people become more engaged and more independent in their own daily lives, whether it be horseback riding or music. When I chose occupational therapy, I thought I was choosing into a definite field of work for the future. But the more I learn about OT, the more options appear that I have yet to experience and choose from.