Articulation and Phonology, Equine Assisted Therapy, Expressive Language, Feeding Skills, Hippotherapy, Pragmatic Language and Social Skills, Receptive Language, Speech and Language Development, Speech and Language Therapy, Speech Language Pathology in Motion, The Hippotherapy Team

Speech Language Pathology and Hippotherapy

Speech language pathology and Hippotherapy

Why might speech language pathology professionals use hippotherapy?

Speech treatment may incorporate Hippotherapy into a client’s treatment plan for a variety of reasons.  According to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA), Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) work to prevent, assess, diagnose, and treat 5 main areas in children and adults.

These areas are:

  1. Speech difficulties occur when a person is unable to produce speech sounds correctly or fluently.  In addition, speech difficulties also occur when a person has problems with their voice or resonance.
  2. Language difficulties occur when a person has trouble understanding others (receptive language), or sharing thoughts, ideas, and feelings (expressive language).
  3. Social communication difficulties occur when a person has trouble with the social use of verbal and nonverbal communication. Pragmatic language difficulties fall under this category.
  4. Cognitive-communication difficulties include problems organizing thoughts, paying attention, remembering, planning, and/or problem-solving.
  5. Swallowing disorders (dysphagia) are feeding/swallowing difficulties, which may occur when motor or sensory deficits impede on a person’s ability to eat/drink as expected. 

SLPs can use hippotherapy as a tool to help them address all 5 of these areas in their clients.  What is hippotherapy?  According to the American Hippotherapy Association, the term hippotherapy refers to “how occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech-language pathology professionals use evidence-based practice and clinical reasoning in the purposeful manipulation of equine movement to engage sensory, neuromotor, and cognitive systems to achieve functional outcomes. In conjunction with the affordances of the equine environment and other treatment strategies, hippotherapy is part of a patient’s integrated plan of care.”

Here is how SLPs might use hippotherapy as a treatment tool:

  1. Speech Difficulties:The production of a single syllable requires the participation of 8-10 body parts and the coordinated action of 70 muscles.  Speech therapy addresses poor breath support, inadequate jaw control, decreased accuracy of the articulators, and motor planning difficulties.  The use of hippotherapy and the equine environment can aide the SLP in addressing these areas.  SLPs use various developmental positions on the horse.  Furthermore, they use the skilled purposeful manipulation movement to target breath support, praxis, vocal volume, speech sound production, rate and fluency.  In addition, clients are motivated to practice and improve productions so their equine friend can hear how well they say things.
  2. Language Difficulties: The farm is a language rich environment, giving endless opportunities for language practice.  The presence of the horse itself and equine movement provide motivation for language practice. The SLP can overlay language activities using toys and games just as they would in any other setting.  The SLP can also use the natural environment provided by the farm to target a wide variety language objectives.
  3. Social Communication Difficulties: SLPs can use this setting and hippotherapy to help clients improve social communication difficulties.  Treatment with an SLP in this setting provides natural opportunities for social communication practice, since a treatment team of 3-4 people is generally used during a speech session incorporating hippotherapy.  As a result, there are opportunities for the SLP to facilitate pragmatic language practice.  Interactions occur with the horse handler, sidewalker, other people at the farm.  Furthermore, the horse and other farm animals also provide opportunities to practice these skills.
  4. Cognitive-Communication Difficulties: SLPs can use hippotherapy and the farm environment to provide an endless number of cognitive-communication and executive function tasks.  Hence, recalling information, attending, planning, and organization are addressed and challenged in this setting.
  5. Swallowing Disorders: While SLPs don’t generally present food to clients while on a horse, SLPs can use hippotherapy to improve swallowing and feeding by addressing the motor and sensory systems that effect a client’s ability to chew and swallow foods of various textures.  In addition, animals are excellent motivators for children to have to help them explore and try new foods.

Speech Language Pathology in Motion has offices in Hauppauge and Islandia NY.  We incorporate hippotherapy into treatment, when appropriate, as part of a larger total plan of care.  For more information visit

Tina is the owner of Speech Language Pathology in Motion, a private practice on Long Island, NY. She is licensed in NY and VT. Her continuing education has included training in numerous speech language pathology specialized 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. Tina currently serves as the American Hippotherapy Association Inc. Board President. She is also a member, Registered Therapist and Certified Registered Instructor with PATH Intl.

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© 2017, Tina M. Rocco, M.A. CCC-SLP, HPCS. All rights reserved.

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1 thought on “Speech Language Pathology and Hippotherapy

  1. Great article Tina! I am an OT in California and dabble in hippotherapy as well. This is a great resource for anyone that is interested in hippotherapy to address speech development. Can’t wait to read more from you blog!

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