The elements necessary to start hippotherapy include a properly trained horse, a qualified therapist and a medical referral. Equine-assisted treatment proves effective for children with neurological disorders and adults suffering from multiple sclerosis.

As defined by the Polish Hippotherapeutic Association, hippotherapy is a specific therapeutic procedure performed with the assistance of a properly-trained horse, with a view to improving the physical, emotional, cognitive and social functions of the patient.

When is hippotherapy applied?

“This therapy is mostly recommended for children with neurological syndromes (e.g. infantile cerebral palsy or congenital disorders of the central nervous system), orthopaedic syndromes (faulty posture or limb development defects), genetic syndromes (Down syndrome), intellectual disabilities or overall development disorders," says Anna Strumińska, President of the Polish Hippotherapeutic Association.

Adult patients include mostly people suffering from multiple sclerosis, post-stroke lesions, mental disorders or addictions.

Are there any contradictions to hippotherapy?

“There are certain illnesses and disorders in which hippotherapy should not be applied as it may worsen the patient’s condition," warns President Strumińska.

Absolute contradictions include an allergy to horse hair or sweat, an allergy to hay, systemic inflammatory diseases, unhealed wounds, hip dislocation and subluxation, and atlanto-axial instability of cervical vertebrae which may occur, for instance, in patients suffering from Down syndrome.

The relative contradictions assessed on a case-by-case basis include epilepsy, considerable intellectual disability or significant limitation of the osteoarticular system motility.

Who conducts the therapy?

Hippotheraphy should be subject to medical referral. It should be conducted by a licensed hippotherapy instructor, supervised by a specialist dealing with a given disease.

“We appeal to patients and parents of children undergoing hippotherapy for verifying the qualifications held by people who claim to be hippotherapists. This is an extremely challenging and responsible job that calls for a vast interdisciplinary expertise and exceptional knowledge of horses," Strumińska advocates.

The Polish Hippotherapeutic Association issues licences to its trained therapists, which are valid for five years. The licence expires unless its holder participates in additional qualification courses.

Is hippotherapy refundable?

As stated by Strumińska, hippotherapy is not refundable from the National Health Fund. Some hippotherapy centres, however, offer therapeutic services, the costs of which are reimbursed by the State Fund for Rehabilitation of People with Disabilities. In therapeutic centres run by various foundations and associations patients usually cover part of the costs, whereas the remaining portion is paid by the organisation itself.

President Strumińska stresses that hippotherapy in Poland is quite popular, especially among young patients.

“It is hard to determine the exact number of hippotherapy centres in Poland. The Polish Hippotherapeutic Association assumes the patronage over those facilities that operate in accordance with the Polish Hippotherapy Standards, ensuring high-level services and safety. In 2012 such patronage was provided to 34 centres," says the President.

In 2012 the equine-assisted therapy performed in such facilities was used by over 5 thousand patients.

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