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The Effectiveness of Hippotherapy for Children with Language-Learning Disabilities

This study examined the effectiveness of hippotherapy versus traditional therapy for children with language-learning disabilities. Three boys, ages 9, 10, and 12 years, and their parents independently completed a satisfaction questionnaire at the end of traditional therapy (T1) and again at the end of hippotherapy (T2). A comparison of the responses from T1 and T2 indicated that both the parents and the children reported improvement in speech and language abilities after both therapies. Overall, responses were noticeably higher following hippotherapy, with additional benefits of improved motivation and attention also reported.

The purpose of the present study is to examine the effectiveness of hippotherapy for children with LLD. Researchers hypothesized that children would make more progress toward their speech and language goals and improve their motivation to attend therapy following a block of hippotherapy than they would following a block of traditional clinic-based therapy. Specific research questions addressed included the following:

 1. Will children with LLD and their parents report improvement in speech and language abilities following hippotherapy?

 2. Will the children and their parents report improvement in the children’s motivation to attend speech–language therapy following hippotherapy?

 3. Will the children and their parents report improvement in the children’s self-concept following hippotherapy?

 4. Is hippotherapy less effective, more effective, or as effective as traditional clinic-based therapy?

 In the parents’ questionnaire, the questions with differences greater than 4 points between the two therapies were 6, 12, and 14. These are important findings because therapy always runs more smoothly with a willing participant. When a client requires external motivation to participate in the therapy session, valuable time and energy is taken away from the activities and teaching time to motivate the client.

These are also noticeable results as the answers indicated that the boys looked forward to coming to the hippotherapy sessions, enjoyed the activities, and even talked about their therapy with friends.

Another finding from this study was that the parents reported that their children made greater improvements in speech and language abilities, motivation, and self-concept following hippotherapy when compared to results from traditional clinic-based therapy.

These responses may indicate that during traditional therapy, the child is focused on the paper and pencil tasks or listening and talking activities that target his speech and language goals so the child is more aware of what he is doing the difficulty, the repetition, and the monotony of the tasks. The results of this pilot study showed that, with a small number of participants, hippotherapy was successful. Authors acknowledge that the parents may have responded positively to hippotherapy because of its novelty, as well as the inherent influence of the researcher’s expectations during survey-based research.


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