Equine Assisted Therapy, Hippotherapy, Speech Language Pathology in Motion, The Hippotherapy Team

Meet the Hippotherapy Team: Part 2 – The Therapist

This is part 2 of a 5 part series about the hippotherapy team.  In Part 1 we learned that there are many people involved in making physical therapy, occupational therapy or speech therapy sessions incorporating equine movement (hippotherapy) possible, and that each member of the team plays an important role.  The therapist is the “leader” of the team.

Hippotherapy can be provided by the following therapists:

  • Occupational therapists (OT)
  • Occupational therapy assistants (OTA) under the direction of an occupational therapist
  • Physical therapists (PT)
  • Physical therapy assistants (PTA) under the direction of a physical therapist
  • Speech-Language Pathologists (SLP)

These therapists may incorporate hippotherapy as a treatment tool while working within their scope of practice and in accordance with the laws and regulations in their state.  Hippotherapy should not be confused with adaptive riding (sometimes referred to as therapeutic horseback riding).

It is best practice that the therapist have training from an organization such as the American Hippotherapy Association prior to incorporating hippotherapy into their sessions.  Therapists may obtain Level I and  Level II training from The American Hippotherapy Association (AHA).  AHA also offers many other courses to teach therapists about incorporating hippotherapy in their practices.

In addition to training in the area of hippotherapy, it is also recommended that the therapist have at least one year of clinical experience prior to using hippotherapy as a treatment tool in their sessions.

Physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech and language pathologists who have been practicing their profession for at least three years (6,000 hours) and have 100 hours of hippotherapy practice within the three years may take the Hippotherapy Clinical Specialist Examination through the American Hippotherapy Certification Board.  OTAs and PTAs are not eligible to sit for the examination.

Therapists who pass the exam have demonstrated a high level of knowledge in the field of hippotherapy and use the initials “HPCS” after their name to indicate that they are “Hippotherapy Professional Clinical Specialists.”  HPCS is a designation of therapists who have advanced knowledge and experience in hippotherapy.  This is the highest qualification a therapist can obtain in the area of hippotherapy.

In the hippotherapy setting the therapist is responsible for:

  • Selecting a horse which is appropriate in size, temperament, width, and movement for their patients.  The horse is carefully selected by the therapist for the quality of it’s movement.  The horse must be physically and mentally sound, fit and healthy.
  •  Selecting a highly skilled horse handler to ensure that they are able to effectively control and direct the horses movement under the direction of the therapist.
  • Selecting an appropriate side walker
  • Selecting or providing an appropriate location for the OT/PT/SLP session that incorporates hippotherapy.
  • Determining if there are any health concerns or other reasons why hippotherapy should not be included in a patient’s treatment plan.
  • Training, or ensuring that training has been provided for the horse, horse handler and side walkers.  Training includes how to respond in emergency situations.
  • Communicating with the team
  • Communicating with the patient and his/her family
  • Working within their scope of practice

Families seeking physical therapy, occupational therapy or speech therapy incorporating hippotherapy should select the therapist that they choose carefully.  Be sure to find a licensed therapist with training and experience in this niche area of practice.

Speech Language Pathology in Motion, located in Hauppauge and Islandia NY offers hippotherapy as a speech therapy treatment strategy.  Visit our website to learn more: www.speechinmotion.com

This blog is part of a 5 part series on the hippotherapy team.  The hippotherapy team is led by the therapist.  Look for part 3 of this series to learn about the therapy horse.

Tina is the owner of Speech Language Pathology in Motion, a private practice on Long Island, NY. Her continuing education has included training in numerous speech language pathology treatment techniques including animal assisted therapy, Hippotherapy, PROMPT, DIRFloortime, The SOS Approach to Feeding, NDT, LAMP, and TEACCH. Tina has been recognized as a board certified hippotherapy clinical specialist (HPCS) since 2011 and is one of only ten SLPs in the United States to hold this credential.

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© 2012 – 2019, Tina M. Rocco, M.A. CCC-SLP, HPCS. All rights reserved.

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