Speech and language development is not just about what occurs in the mouth. Organization and integration of the sensory systems and core strength, trunk control and breath support are important parts of speech and language development. The ability to register speech and language, attend to it, and process it is all related to these systems working.
It is no coincidence that typically developing children start talking around the same time that their sensory and motor systems begin to be organized enough for them to start crawling, walking and exploring the environment. Sensory and motor development are important in speech and language development. Keep in mind that speech is a complex motor task requiring that numerous muscles must work together to produce different sounds all while coordinating with breath support.
The use of “hippotherapy” in speech therapy (using the movement of the horse) can help to engage sensory, neuromotor and cognitive systems and in turn, promote functional outcomes.. The horses movement is helpful in working with children with speech and language delays and disorders for many reasons. Please note that hippotherapy is NOT a horseback riding lesson. It is not considered to be a form of therapeutic or adaptive horseback riding. It is a therapy treatment tool utilized by occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech language pathology professionals as part of a therapy plan of care.
When hippotherapy is included in an OT/PT/SLP session, the horses movement produces movement in the patient. This movement is repeated each time the horse takes a step. Approximately 3,000 facilitatory steps of movement are produced in a 20 minute session using hippotherapy. This translates into 3,000 opportunities to form a new motor pathway for speech and language development.
The horse’s walk provides sensory input through movement, which is variable, rhythmic, and repetitive.
The horses walking gait moves the human body in a similar pattern to the human pelvis while walking. The therapist is able to facilitate increased trunk control, stability and breath support through the movement of the horse. These functions support speech and language.
The horses walk simultaneously produces the following movement in the patient:
- Through space
The patient receives proprioceptive input, vestibular input, tactile input, auditory input, olfactory input, and visual flow all simultaneously as the horse is moving. The horse also provides warmth. It is not possible to replicate this in a clinic.
The therapist carefully chooses horses for each patient based on the type of movement they produce. The variability of the horse’s gait enables the therapist to grade the degree of sensory input to the patient and then utilize this movement in combination with other speech-language pathology treatment tools and strategies to achieve desired results.
In addition to all of the above, the biggest draw for some patients is that horses are living beings. They are big, yet gentle, and they accept everyone for who they are. People are often drawn to them and want to be around them. Many children and adults feel better when they are around animals. Animal Assisted therapy has been shown to have many benefits.
Many patients are motivated to participate in therapy in this unique and enriching setting. Patients who have been receiving therapy for a long time, or receive numerous therapy treatments weekly, sometimes get burnt out! Hippotherapy is very different from traditional therapy sessions. The therapist is able to address the same goals as they would address in a clinic setting, but to the patient they are just having a good time with their favorite pony!
Hippotherapy is commonly used by a Speech Language Pathologist, as a tool within treatment while addressing:
- Receptive language delays and deficits
- Expressive language delays and deficits
- Pragmatic language delays and disorders
- Articulation delays and disorders
- Phonology delays and disorders
- Stuttering/Fluency Disorders
- Oral motor delays
- Voice (breath support, volume, vocal abuse and misuse)
- Auditory processing disorders
- Oral/verbal apraxia of speech
- Swallowing/Feeding difficulty
Here is a video explaining more about hippotherapy and speech:
For more information about hippotherapy please visit The American Hippotherapy Association website.
Speech Language Pathology in Motion is a private practice located in Hauppauge and Islandia NY. We incorporate hippotherapy into speech therapy treatment plans. Visit our website to learn more about us: www.speechinmotion.com
© 2012 – 2019, Tina M. Rocco, M.A. CCC-SLP, HPCS. All rights reserved.