Friday, May 20, 2011


Years ago, I first heard about "Theraputic Horseback Riding." It is also called "Hippotherapy." Whaaat? What kind of therapy is THAT? I'll keep my kid away from any kind of therapy that involves hippos, thank you. Kidding. I did not think that it directly involved hippos, but I knew nothing about it. The "hippo" part comes from the Greek word for horse. Lilli was a toddler when I read about it on the internet. My first thoughts were:

She's too little.

Must be expensive.

Don't have time to research another therapy for my child.

I was wrong about all three.


 Children with special needs can begin hippotherapy at a very young age. Some sources say 2, some say younger depending on their physical abilities. The child sits on a small, well trained horse with a person on either side, holding onto them. It's not like your child has to be able to ride a horse on their own. It's easier than putting a child on a bike. I would describe it to be as safe as putting my child on a merry go round horse, with me on one side and my husband on the other, holding onto her the entire time. Nothing scary about that. Even better, I don't do the actual holding of my child. A trusted pair of experienced therapists hold my child and walk with her, while I get to take pictures and yell, "Good job, Lilli!!" from bleachers filled with parents.


Sometimes insurance actually covers hippotherapy. This is something a parent needs to ask a doctor or physical therapist about, and check with the insurance company and the hippotherapy provider. In our case, it is a wonderful, non profit organization with trained volunteers. We pay $5 every Saturday for a 20 minute session. Before we found HALTER ( ) I looked into another local farm that offers hippotherapy. They ask for $30 per session, once a week.


 Minimal. My niece mentioned it because she was interested in becoming a hippotherapy volunteer. I called  two places that I Googled and had Lilli put on a waiting list for HALTER, a local program here in Spartanburg. We had to wait a few months. When she reached the top of the list I had to get our doctor to fill out and sign a medical form, and that was it. We showed up with the checkbook, my camera, and made sure Lilli was wearing long pants and sneakers. Easy.

I wish I had not waited so long. Lilli has had 5 sessions so far. The first week, she would not wear the helmet, and was afraid of the horse. Mike, one of the volunteers wearing a cowboy hat, spoke gently to Lilli. He scooped Lilli up and took her to meet the horse. He sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to Lilli and helped ease her onto the horse's back. She sat for a few moments, and that was it. They told me not to be discouraged, to come back and see what happened the following week.

Week 2: I spent a lot of time getting Lilli used to the helmet. Lilli sat on the horse and rode around the ring. She was leaning over, clinging to Mike the entire time, but she was ok with it. She was quiet, but interested.

Week 3: Lilli wore the helmet no problem, and sat up by herself while riding. She smiled and made happy sounds the entire ride.

Week 4: Lilli laughed and smiled the entire session. They turned her around backwards on the horse. That was to help work on her balance while riding. She was thrilled.

Week 5: Lilli was a pro, sitting up straight and riding forward and backwards with a huge smile the entire time. She squealed with happiness and kissed the volunteers and her own hands. Other parents said, "Isn't she the one who would not even get on the horse a few weeks ago?"

I still have not researched to see what the benefits of hippotherapy are for Lilli. I don't have to. She is learning to do something new, gaining independence, she is proud of herself, she is bonding with horses and new people, and …oh yeah, probably working on a few physical therapy skills too.

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