by Carol Gosselin
Most people would be surprised to hear that there is actually a difference between hippotherapy and therapeutic horseback riding.

Hippotherapy is about the horses movement:  the walk of the horse is rhythmic and repetitive. That movement is a foundation to improve an individual’s sensory processing.  

The Hippotherapy Association defines:  “Hippotherapy is a physical, occupational, or speech and language therapy treatment strategy that utilizes equine movement.”  The term Hippotherapy is derived from the Greek word for horse (Hippos) and the word ‘therapy’. Therapists have found this type of therapy may be helpful for Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Developmental Delay, Traumatic Brain Injury, Stroke, Autism and Learning or Language Disabilities.    IMGFjordCarol G. (right) leading the fjord Luna, with sidewalker on the horse's right; an example of a therapeutic riding lesson.

So, what’s therapeutic riding? Well, that can involve more than just the movement of the horse. Therapeutic riding includes activity, riding, learning about the horse, health benefits, physical activity and many other benefits of riding. It’s more like a riding lesson adapted to the rider’s abilities. Hence, therapy riding is adapted recreational riding vs. true therapeutic horseback riding (hippotherapy).  
You may also be surprised to know that there is therapeutic carriage driving. This involves controlling a horse while driving from a carriage seat or from a wheelchair in a carriage modified to accommodate the wheelchair.

According to PATH International (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship):  “Carriage driving gives participants a riding alternative, opening up the world of horses to those who may be unable to ride due to weight, balance, fatigue, allergies, asthma, fear of heights, the inability to sit astride, or other issues. It can also provide the student with a unique movement experience. 

“Therapeutic Driving is about imparting knowledge of safety, horses, harnessing, and driving skills to children and adults using teamwork. It takes three to five volunteers to make one driving turnout!”  PATH offers certification for anyone who would like to become a therapeutic driving instructor.

PHOTO:   This is a picture of a typical therapeutic horse riding lesson. There is a leader (me), one side walker (depending on the rider, there may be a side walker on each side of the horse) and the rider.  There is a specially licensed riding instructor and three other riders/horses also in this class (not pictured).   

If this was truly therapeutic riding (which Hippotherapy is), it would not be in a “class” or “riding lesson” setting with multiple riders and there would not be a riding instructor.  While this is called “therapeutic riding,” what this picture shows is an adaptive riding lesson as there is no hands-on therapy going on. It is a riding lesson that is adapted to the rider's needs;  there is no licensed therapist working with the rider. It’s also not one on one as it would be in Hippotherapy.  

Equine Definitions
- Equine assisted activities are simply any activities involving a horse.
- Equine assisted therapy refers to skilled therapy that involves a horse.
- Therapeutic riding involves riding skills and horsemanship taught to people with disabilities by a specially trained and certified riding instructor  (there are several organizations that offer the special certification/training needed that the instructor must have).
-Hippotherapy is when a licensed therapist uses movement of a horse as a therapeutic tool. Hippotherapy is prescribed by a phyisican; there is no riding instructor, no side walkers and is done in a one on one environment.

Comparison chart, Hippotherapy vs. Therapeutic RIding:


Thank you to Carol Gosselin for this thorough comparison!