Hippotherapy uses horseback riding as a form of treatment for clients under the supervision of an occupational therapist (OT), physical therapist (PT), or speech-language pathologist (SLP). The natural gait and movement of the horse provides motor and sensory input that cannot be replicated in a therapy classroom.
Hippotherapy differs from therapeutic riding because an OT, PT, or SLP is the one who runs the session, not a riding instructor. The therapist determines client goals and typically works with the client outside of hippotherapy.
In PATH certified programs, hippotherapy must be done with a specially-trained therapist in hippotherapy and a PATH certified instructor. The instructor acts as the equine specialist while the therapist works with the client. Lessons are unique from therapeutic riding because clients are working on functional therapeutic goals, not on horseback riding skills.
A different type of horse may be used in hippotherapy. A round barrel horse with slow movements allows for minimal impact on the rider. Horses may need to walk in only straight lines so an older, stiffer horse could be a good choice. Slow horses with a lot of impact in their steps may be good for riders who need more impact but cannot handle a quick pace. Hippotherapy also tends to be more hands-on than therapeutic riding because the therapist may physically manipulate a rider and the horse needs to be comfortable with that.
Hippotherapy is often confused with therapeutic riding but they are not the same thing. Therapeutic riding does not require a therapist while hippotherapy does. Not every therapist can provide hippotherapy either, they need to be certified in hippotherapy.