The term hippotherapy has its roots in the Greek language, and is translated as treatment with the help of the horse (Glasow, 2003). Using horseback tiding as a form of natural exercise dates back to Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.). Although therapeutic riding and hippotherapy are both used as forms of treatment for persons with disabilities, they are not synonymous. Hippotherapy is prescribed by a physician and utilizes equine movement as part of a treatment strategy and is used by physical, occupational, and speech therapists "as part of an integrated treatment program to achieve functional outcomes" (American Hippotherapy Association, 2003, What is hippotherapy?, [paragraph] 1). Therapeutic riding is generally a program of supervised recreational riding and thus, a less restrictive environment than hippotherapy. For additional information on therapeutic riding see PALAESTRA, 22(4), 46, 56 - Therapeutic Riding--An Overview. Success in hippotherapy may lead to an individual's continued participation through a program in therapeutic riding. Both hippotherapy and therapeutic riding may be offered at the same facility.
Researchers have shown a horse's rhythmical movement, resembling the human gait, can help improve an individual's muscle tone, balance, posture, flexibility, coordination, and motor development (Gatty, n.d). At the same time, relationships formed between horses and riders can help improve emotional well-being, including self-confidence, self-esteem, and self awareness (Bizub, Joy, & Davidson, 2003). Both hippotherapy and therapeutic riding have been used to benefit individuals with medical conditions, and/or functional impairments, such as cerebral palsy, stroke, developmental delays, Down syndrome, learning disabilities, multiple sclerosis, sensory integrative dysfunction, traumatic brain injury, and many others. Lessons are designed on an individual basis and participants start as early as 18 to 24 months of age.
Volunteers serve as essential parts in the operation of therapeutic riding programs. Without volunteers many of these programs could not operate: Most riding centers need a minimum of 50 volunteers per year. More than 25,000 people volunteer their time within North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) centers each year. According to NARHA, 80% of all therapists, instructors, and center administrators are volunteers (NARHA, 2003). Experience is not required for most volunteers and training is generally provided by the facility to ensure the safety of both participants and volunteers, as well as to meet insurance requirements. NARHA (1999) believes, "a well-trained volunteer is safe, effective, and enhances the quality of the therapeutic riding program, while making the lesson enjoyable" (p. 113). Volunteer training is often provided by program directors and instructors registered through NARHA (see Figure 1). Many programs expect volunteers to work at the facility one to two times per week. Depending on the volunteer's abilities and interests, there are many areas in which assistance may be needed--leading horses during lessons, side-walking (see Figure 2, pg 22), grooming/bathing horses and other general care, and maintenance duties (see Figure 3, pg 22). Volunteers are crucial for a successful program. In fact, most therapeutic riding centers would not be able to function without their volunteers--but do volunteers benefit from participating in these programs?
Buswell, Deborah and Leriou, Filitsa, "Perceived Benefits of Students' Service-Learning Experiences with Hippotherapy" (2007). Faculty Publications. Paper 15.