These days, people tend to immediately use the word “hippotherapy” when horses are used in activities for helping people with special needs or with special problems like autism for example.
It is important to understand we cannot put all activity under this terminology of “hippotherapy” and that there is
a significant difference between hippotherapy and other equestrian activities with the goal to help people with special needs.
Hippo is Greek for horse and the word hippotherapy is often used to name one of the tools used by occupational therapists, physical therapists or speech language pathologists. Hippotherapy is one of their tools and its part of their plan of care.
In hippotherapy the therapist is constantly evaluating the child. They determine the weaknesses and the strengths. They also interview the parents of course or whoever knows them best (sometimes, adoptive or guardians.) Then from there they determine how to proceed.
None of us in horseclubvarna is a licenced therapist like mentioned above. We do contact therapists when children or adults with special needs arrive with us, but it must have become clear that what we do is not real hippotherapy but falls under equine-assisted activities (see next)
Equine-assisted activities (EAA) with the goal to help people with special needs, is mainly done by “horse people” that learned how to work with people and kids with special needs. It can be done by "anyone" as long as this person knows how to walk, trot and canter with a horse and can teach the kid or adult how to ride. In EAA, often multiple children or adults are taken in a group (from three to eight people in one session), whereas most [hippo-] therapists do one-on-one sessions.
The head instructor of our club is currently taking part in some formations in the domain of equine-assisted activities and basic hippotherapy and our owner has several years of experience in Belgium in this respect (mainly working with autistic kids). The fact that our club is centered around natural horsemanship - where communicating in a right, sensitive way is so important - is a very large plus in all of this.
At horseclubvarna, we mainly also do our sessions one-on-one, just as therapists would do. Before starting a series of sessions, we have a talk with the parents and learn about the kid through their eyes. Throughout all the sessions, we keep the parents permanently involved. Also, we do not hesitate to take up contact with some therapists we are friends with, to consult with them how we best proceed in case of doubts. In this way, we can offer a really high quality equine-assisted service, but at the same time it still does not make us hippotherapists. We will never claim to be therapists. We feel it is important for everybody to understand this, as we recently see this notion "hippotherapy" popping up at several places. We cannot stress enough that performing hippotherapy without proper formation/knowledge can easily obtain an averse effect, which should be avoided at all times.
Our EAA helps or can help with a whole range of problems. Think for example about children that have a depression or suffer from post-traumatic stress or high anxiety especially in children on the spectrum of autism or Asperger’s.
Often getting them involved in activities like simply brushing a horse can help a great deal. Equine assisted activities are do not necessarly involve mounting and riding a horse. There is even a certain group of people that never mounts a horse and where the approach with horses is more psychological than anything else. For example, by brushing a horse, little by little and without realizing it, they learn to communicate with this magnificant animal. Horses are specialists in body language and it is, also for us, still amazing to see how our horses react in such a subtle and gentle way towards troubled kids. Our horses simply feel it when a kid is "different" and most of the time will not show the typical reactions you might expect from horses when someone for example screams loudly or makes sudden unexpected movements.
If you are interested in our equine-assisted activities, take up contact with us to discuss the possibilities.