Horse Therapy for Seniors

What can Equine Therapy, also known as Hippotherapy or horse therapy, do for seniors?

In recent years you have likely heard of the benefits of living with and interacting with animals. Cuddling up beside your dog or petting your cat (or even pet lizard!) helps to calm your mood, relieve stress, and provides an emotional connection to another living creature. Perhaps you are even aware of dogs and cats being used as part of therapy programs to help people recover from traumatic experiences. Yet another type of program to take advantage of the special connection that develops between humans and animals is equine (or horse) therapy, also known as “hippotherapy” (‘hippo’ is Greek for horse). Best of all, equine therapy can be a perfect addition to a senior’s life providing social, emotional, and physical health benefits.

Therapy using horses was first mentioned in the works of the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, almost 2,500 years ago. In many European countries (specifically Germany, Austria, and Sweden) it gained popularity during the 1960s. By the 1980s, it was recognized in the United States and Canada as a beneficial treatment for many physical, psychological, and emotional challenges. Finally, in the 1990s it became a regulated discipline in which practitioners could gain specific expertise and certifications. In addition to working as physical therapy, equine therapy also includes principle components of both occupational and speech therapy.

The Wild West meets the golden years

When you think of horses, you may think of Billy the Kid, Will Rogers, and Annie Oakley; seasoned horse riders whose confidence and physical abilities seemed limitless while they were with their equine pals. However, seniors do not have to have a history in the saddle in order to enjoy and benefit from horse therapy. Some programs encourage seniors to actually ride horses, as the repetitive, rhythmic motion of the animal’s gait is thought to mimic that of a human; providing opportunities to improve flexibility, posture, and strength. It is also used to improve breathing control and coordination. These benefits extend to seniors who have memory, balance, and mobility challenges, and can also improve functioning for seniors who have had a stroke or traumatic brain injury.

If imagining long hours in the saddle out riding the trails does not sound like your ideal afternoon, simply being around and touching horses can stimulate memories, help alleviate depression, cure loneliness and the blues, and develop confidence in your ability to tackle life’s challenges. It is possible to work on your non-verbal communication while petting or brushing a pony, showing the animal that you are gentle and care about him. Some therapy programs also allow seniors to feed horses, an important part of daily living, while giving the senior the responsibility of providing necessary care for another creature.

Equine Therapy Benefits Seniors

Horses as our mirrors – Hippotherapy

Whether you are looking for emotional support, a sounding board or just the ability to share your fears and challenges, you can talk to horses and ponies – expressing your concerns and anxieties to a peaceful creature, who is simply happy to have your company and attention. Whether you live alone, in assisted living or a nursing home environment, this engaging activity provides a regular opportunity for interacting with others, both human and equine.

It is easy to acknowledge that growing older can be challenging; it can involve fears and new physical demands, changes in family dynamics and living situations. Equine therapy is yet another tool available to help conquer these new challenges and adjustments, while developing an original hobby and getting outdoor exercise. Horses and ponies are the perfect size for petting and hugging whether you walk or use a wheelchair. Imagine a gentle giant coming to rest her head in your lap as you run your fingers through her mane and tell her about your day, your family, or your dreams in your senior years.

Filling all of your senses

For those who are ready to begin their Senior Horse Therapy experience, you may consider what type of comfortable attire you will wear to your sessions. There are certainly many expensive, specialized options for horse-friendly gear. However, really, only long pants and closed-toed shoes are a must. The therapy location will likely provide you with protective head gear (helmets), even if you are not actually riding the horses. Most of all, you should be alright with any items you wear walking around on a farm! Imagine being outside in the fresh air as you walk, talk, or snuggle with your big, beautiful companion. It sounds peaceful, as it should.

Mile High equine experiences

Does this sound like something you or your senior family member would enjoy and that could benefit your health and happiness? Aging at 5280 is pleased to partner with local horse therapy program Equine Elders. In this program, seniors are welcomed at the barn for direct interaction with trained therapy horses and ponies.

“Our retreats allow you the opportunity to work directly with the horses; engaging in activities to disconnect from day-to-day life. My horses do all of the therapy and I just facilitate it. They are so good at their jobs and they love it. With my program, I do not have an agenda of what we are going to do each day. What happens, we let happen. Each person takes what they need and we go with that” describes Mary Inkret Slouka of Equine Partnership Program.

In addition to Equine Elders, the Equine Partnership Program offers specific horse-based services for grief, Veterans, school-aged life skills and Psychotherapy. Sessions take place in Parker.

Sources: National Institutes of Health |

If you, a family member or friends are in need of support for healthy aging, contact us, we are here to guide you in navigating your roadmap to aging well.

Cindy Koch

Cindy Koch, MA

Certified Placement & Referral Specialist (CPRS) | Owner

Aging at 5280 is here to help elders and their families navigate through the healthcare system and customize a plan to meet their needs.