Hippotherapy is a form of psychomotor therapy that makes use of the horse’s rhythm and dynamics to influence posture and mobility. It is mainly used to address motor, cognitive and communication issues. It is especially recommended for work with children, both at a psychological and physical level.

Thanks to:
Francisco, Gustavo, Pedro, Martim
Sónia Batista and Patricia Batista
Rita Prata (AARF)
Paulo Abrantes and Maria dos Prazeres Abrantes (Francisco’s parents)
Caeiro da Silva (instructor at CHS)
Centro Hípico da Sobreda
Associação Almadense Rumo ao Futuro
Marta Vaz

(Lisbon, 2013)

Sónia Batista readies Negrita for their first session of the day. She and her twin sister Patricia are both psychomotricity therapists specializing in psychomotor rehabilitation and hippotherapy. They were born in Portugal’s countryside, in a region with strong equestrian traditions. Horses have always been part of their lives.

Rita Prata is a clinical psychologist and AARF’s occupational facilities coordinator. “Associação Almadense Rumo ao Futuro”, founded in 1991, is a small NGO which maintains a residential home and an activity centre for people with multi disabilities aged 15 to adults. Currently they work with around 40 clients, 14 of whom are permanent residents. This is one of the institutions with which Sónia and Patricia collaborate. In the background, Liliana is in front of a large picture board with dozens of photographs of clients and residents.

The Equestrian Center of Sobreda (CHS) was founded in 1992. They host and care for an average of 10 to 14 horses, provide riding classes for students, advanced training, and other related activities. They are also a venue for hippotherapy sessions.

Sónia and Patricia work with Gustavo (age 7) on his cognitive abilities, on his focus, and the recognition and articulation of numbers and letters. Exercises are repeated regularly during the course of a therapy session.

Pedro’s (age 20) routine includes riding through small improvised courses and doing posture and upper torso control, strength and balance exercises.

Patricia explained that work directed towards physical and motor disabilities is very rewarding for their clients. It is an area where you often see fast and visible improvements. Whereas in the case of intellectual disabilities these many times deepen and require continuous work to maintain and avoid regression of acquired skills and capabilities. Martim (age 8) performs a strength and coordination exercise. His therapy is focused essentially in left/right body balance through riding and specific motor exercises using weights, pins and rings.

Excess information does not generate added cognitive competence so each exercise must focus on a single specific task or mode of comprehension. Clear contrasts in elements, visual and cognitive, are important to allow their easy differentiation and understanding. Every exercise must be simple and directed to one specific isolated skill in order to be effective.

Francisco (age 9) works on arithmetic skills. Sónia calls out numbers and operations and he hands her the resulting amount of tokens. This helps develop abstract thought. His father explained that it was in hippotherapy that he began doing arithmetic operations.

Francisco loves computer games which he can play for hours in a row. He also takes his Nintendo portable console everywhere. He has been doing hippotherapy for several years now. His parents, Paulo and Maria, say that sometimes it is very difficult to reconcile his school schedule with the therapy sessions, but they are worth it. It is something he loves second only to computer games and he is enjoying very beneficial and visible improvements on both his communication and cognitive skills, as well as in his self-confidence.