Therapeutic Riding And Hippotherapy Improves Language Skills

Therapeautic Riding can benefit students with all types of exceptionalities. Equine-assisted therapy (EAT) is a type of animal-assisted therapy where the horse becomes an integrated part of a treatment program provided by licensed therapists (Delta Society website). The Macauly & Gutierrez (2004) article specifically addresses Hippotherapy, which is a type of EAT where the focus is on the physical experience and stimulation of riding, as opposed to the development of riding skills. The American Hippotherapy Association defines hippotherapy as a “physical, occupational, or speech therapy treatment strategy utilizing equine movement” (2002). Many speech language pathologists become certified in EAT as a form of treatment for their patients.

The Macauly study, however, looks specifically at the benefits for students with speech and language disabilities, which are impacted both at the physical and emotional level. The “consistent, repetitive movement of the horse stimulates the sensory-motor system of the client, giving the nervous system a template from which to build it’s physical and cognitive responses,” (Macauley, 2003). In addition to the stimulation of the nervous system in coordination with speech and language, the Hippotherapy provides an added benefit of changing the student’s affect. Horses, like many animals, encourage a positive affect in children, and this affect increases their motivation to participate and concentrate on speaking and language skills. Additionally, the experience of the riding often inspires the students to talk about what they are learning (Hudson Valley Business Journal, 2007).

The Macauly study, which looked at the effects of Hippotherapy on students with speech and language disabilities, found that not only the students, but also the parents reported an improvement in speech and language abilities after the therapy. Hippotherapy provided the additional benefit of increased motivation, memory and attention span.

Overall, the impact on children can be extremely beneficial both in terms of their physical development, as well as their emotional development. Beverly Simmons, a champion rider and therapeutic riding instructor, speaks to this point: “The physical emotional and psychological effect the horses have on these children is profound.”


  • Denton, S. (2005). Special Needs, Special Horses: A Guide to the benefits of Therapeutic Riding. University of North Texas Press.
  • Macauly, B.L. & Gutierrez, K.M. (2004). The Effectiveness of Hippotherapy for Children With Language-Learning Disabilities. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 25 (4), p205-217.
  • Spotlight on CFA Members by Eileen Subbe. The Secured Lender, May/June 2007, pg. 29 – 31.
  • Winslow’s therapeutic riding program benefits students. Hudson Valley Business Journal, Jan 15th, 2007.

Note: This page was contributed by Allison Aboud