long island hippotherapy and therapuetic riding

Long Island Links: Therapeutic Horseback Riding and Hippotherapy

One of my favorite things about Occupational Therapy is that there are no limits to how you can help a patient achieve their goals.  It depends on what the patient wants to achieve and what they are interested in.  You can use activities like gardening, scrapbooking or crocheting to work on motor skills. You can use yoga, dance, or karate to work on strength and coordination.  The list goes on.  One of the coolest ways to help a patient achieve their goals is on horseback.

There are a number of places right here in Long Island that offer Hippotherapy and Therapeutic Riding.  When I learned that a PT friend of mine does therapeutic riding lessons on the side, I just had to go see what it was all about.  And of course, I loved it!

Hippotherapy vs. Therapeutic Riding

So here is what I learned:

Hippotherapy is different than “therapeutic riding”.  The American Hippotherapy Association defines Hippotherapy as  a physical,  occupational, or speech and language therapy treatment strategy using a horse.   A horse is incorporated into the treatment to “engage the sensori-motor and neuromotor systems to create a functional change in their patient” (http://www.americanhippotherapyassociation.com/2015).

So basically, a therapist takes their treatment goals and uses the movements of a horse (rather than a swing, scooter, etc.) to facilitate the achievement of that goal.  From an OT’s perspective, let’s say I wanted to work on visual perceptual skills, teaching left and right and reaching across midline.  I could set up puzzle pieces on both sides of my patient (and the horse) and have them reach across midline following my directions to get a piece from the left or right and then walk the horse forward to where the puzzle is to insert the piece.  A physical therapist might use this same activity to work on postural control, balance or trunk rotation.  A speech therapist might use it to facilitate language in a patient.

Movement and vestibular input can be very calming and organizing. I have seen children who are almost non-verbal sing and say new words after swinging on a swing for a few movements.  The movements of a horse can have the same effect.


According to the American Hippotherapy Association (AHA), there are only about 7 certified Hippotherapists in the Long Island Area. A board certified Hippotherapist has earned the letters HPCS after their name, which stands for Hippotherapy Clinical Specialist.  Hippotherapists can be licensed physical therapists, occupational therapists, or speech and language pathologists who have been practicing their profession for at least three years.  They must have 100 hours of Hippotherapy practice within the three years prior to application. Application fees apply, and a multiple-choice examination must be passed.

“Hippotherapy is not a horseback riding lesson. It is therapy prescribed by a physician and delivered by a team that includes a licensed, credentialed therapist (occupational therapist, physical therapist, or speech-language pathologist), a professional horse handler, and a specially screened and trained therapy horse. There is direct hands-on participation by the therapist at all times. The horse‘s movement is essential to assist in meeting therapy goals.” (Apel, 2007). 

Therapeutic Riding:

There are also many PATH certified therapeutic riding instructors all through the Long Island area.  The “PATH” organization stands for Professional Association Therapeutic Horsemanship.  PATH offers three levels of certification for therapeutic riding instructors: Registered, Advanced and Master. The requirements for each level include skills in Equine Management, Horsemanship, Instruction, Teaching Methodology, and Disabilities.  Instructors who are “PATH” certified have completed online coursework, self-study exams, and 25 mentored hours with a PATH Intl. Certified Riding Professional instruction as well as an on-site workshop and certification.  (http://www.pathintl.org/resources-education/certifications)

“Therapeutic riding is recreational horseback riding lessons adapted to individuals with disabilities. It is completed by a professional horseback riding instructor in conjunction with volunteers.” (Apel, 2007)  “Recreational riding is used to enhance the quality of life through physical and emotional stimulation while the client learns horsemanship skills.” (Meyer, 2006).

Observing Therapeutic Horseback Riding

I observed two therapeutic riding lessons at MyShine in Old Bethpage, Long Island

One of the things that struck me right away was the staff to child ratio.  There were three staff members assisting the child and even more watching from outside the rail.   I was so honored to meet a teenager named Caroline and her mom.  She is diagnosed with Autism and Seizure Disorder.   Her mom brings her every week for her half-hour lesson and watches from the rail as Caroline mounts the horse with help, walks around the course, and practices making the horse stop, go, and turn. My friend Stephanie (PT) taught the session.  I could see how Caroline had to use the muscles in her legs to give the “signals” and the muscles in her arms to manage the reins and make the turns.  The staff worked with her on spatial concepts very naturally, with directions such as “go between the cones”, “turn around” and “make a left”, which was Caroline’s favorite.  Caroline seemed happy and proud to be on the horse, even though she’s been doing it for years.  She had trouble focusing and following the directions at times, but the staff was amazing about redirecting her.  They had such a great rapport; it was easy to see.  Caroline went up into the woods on a trail with the staff, which was relaxing even to me who followed on foot.  The environment of being outside on a beautiful sunny day, walking on a trail through the trees was very peaceful after a crazy day. I can totally understand how this activity can reduce stress and anxiety for anyone!


Stephanie’s mom, Mary, taught the next session.  I had the opportunity to meet with a teenager named Gina and her dad.   Gina is a fifteen-year-old who has been attending either hippotherapy or therapeutic riding since she was 3 years old.  She is diagnosed with Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome (SLO).  Gina is non-ambulatory and has very high tone in her legs, so she rides without a saddle.  Stephanie told me that the tone of her legs improves when she rides.  Gina has decreased strength throughout her body, so riding is a great workout for her.  Stephanie explained to me that hippotherapy is usually done bareback, while therapeutic riding is usually with a saddle. However,  Mary uses a bareback pad with Gina even though it’s therapeutic riding because that is what Gina needs.   Mary and the staff supported Gina from all sides as she went up on the trail.  One of my favorite moments was when one of the staff members put on a Justin Beiber video on their phone for her.  The way her eyes lit up and the burst of giggles that came out of her mouth was so endearing. What a typical teenage girl!   It was interesting to see how the staff placed Gina’s legs so that she was sitting “traditional style” with her legs on either side of the horse, then with both legs on one side in a “side-sitting” position, then backwards, then side-sitting on the other side, and finally back to facing front.  Stephanie explained that this is called “around the world”, and it is Gina’s favorite thing to do.


Gina’s mom told me that she learned about hippotherapy from Gina’s Early Intervention PT. It was difficult to find a program for her at such a young age, but Gina’s mom was very motivated by the research and documentation she found. Her first session on a horse was at the age of 3.  It was with an experienced rider and the instructor sat in the horse with Gina and they rode together.  Gina’s mom reported that Gina finds it very relaxing and when she was young she would often fall asleep (thumb in mouth) and out like a light on the horse. Over the years, Gina has participated in both hippotherapy and therapeutic riding with a PT, and an OT.  They reported that they saw the biggest changes when they started at MY Shine.  She began holding the reins (not mouthing her hands or her shirt) and becoming thoroughly engaged!  Gina’s mom also reported that they see increased trunk control, better posture, maintaining contractors in her legs (which is preventing surgery), and decreased mouthing her hands (which is a constant challenge). Overall, Gina is a happy girl when she is on a horse!


 The benefits of horseback riding

There are many benefits to horseback riding for people of all ages; both with and without disabilities.  Horseback riding can help to improve speech and language, sensory processing, and muscle tone and strength.  It addresses balance, motor coordination, and reflexes.  Horseback riding can be used to address cognitive and mental health goals as well.  There is a lot of research about how animals can facilitate progress in children and adults with physical, cognitive, social, psychiatric, and developmental disabilities.  Articles report increased socialization, improved mood, decreased anxiety, and improved communication (both verbal and non-verbal) when animals or pets are incorporated into a patient’s therapy or care (Rosetti & King, 2010).

 Hippotherapy and Therapeutic Riding Resources

“American Hippotherapy Association, Inc.” American Hippotherapy Association Inc. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 June 2015. <http://www.americanhippotherapyassociation.com/>.

Apel, L. (2007, 06). Hippotherapy and therapeutic riding highlight! The Exceptional Parent, 37, 28-34. Retrieved from http://proxy.nbcot.org:2048/docview/223497887?accountid=143111

Meyer, G. E. (2006). Special needs, special horses: A guide to the benefits of therapeutic riding. Physical Therapy, 86(4), 596-598. Retrieved from http://proxy.nbcot.org:2048/docview/223109476?accountid=143111
Rossetti, Jeanette,EdD., R.N., & King, Camille, MS,R.N., P.M.H.C.N.S.-B.C. (2010). Use of animal-assisted therapy with psychiatric patients. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing & Mental Health Services, 48(11), 44-48. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.3928/02793695-20100831-05

 Long Island facilities that offer Hippotherapy or Therapeutic Riding:

HorseAbility Center for Equine Facilitated Programs

Horse Riding School
223 Store Hill Rd
Old Westbury, NY 11568

email: info@horseability.org

*HorseAbility offers both Hippotherapy and Therapeutic Riding, as well as many other equine assisted activities.  Click the link for more information.

Great Strides Long Island, Inc. 

Saddle Rock Ranch
41 Coram-Swezeytown Road
Middle Island, NY  11953

*Great Strides believes in the benefits of equine assisted activities for everyone – children, adults, and veterans of all abilities.  Great Strides is currently running a recreational therapeutic riding program using PATH certified instructors.  They also offer programs to veterans free of charge.  Click the link for more information.

Pal-O-Mine Equestrian, Inc. 

829 Old Nichols Road
Islandia, NY 11749
email: info@pal-o-mine.org

* Pal-O-Mine offers hippotherapy, therapeutic riding and other equine assisted activities.  Click the link for more information.

SPeech IN Motion

Speech Language Pathology in Motion has been offering Hippotherapy as a speech therapy treatment strategy for over 5 years. They are the only place on long island set up as a therapy practice.

Locations in Islandia and Hauppauge, NY
ph: (631) 479-3393 Ext. 3
fax: (631) 479-3358
alt: (516) 395-8610


Center for Therapeutic Riding of the East End  (Ctreeny)

Wolffer Estate Stables
41 Narrow Lane East
Sagaponack, NY 11962
email: info@ctreeny.org


*Ctreeny offers therapeutic riding lessons from “PATH” certified instructors.  They do not accept insurance, but they do offer scholarships.  Riders start with core balancing riding at age 3 and there is no limit on older ages.   Riders must have good sitting balance and our restrictions are listed on our new rider paperwork.

IRIE Therapeutic Horseback Riding

Union Standardbred Farm
937 Reeves Ave.
(631) 871-1916


Disclaimer: Part of my goal in developing this blog is to offer resources to families in my community of Long Island, NY. Miss Jaime OT is not employed by or associated with the above organizations.  These organizations were contacted for permission to be included on this blog post.  If you have information about another resource in Long Island that should be added, please let me know.

For more information about Hippotherapy, click here.

For more information about “PATH” click here.


Happy Riding!


~Miss Jaime, O.T.


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essential oil, aromatherapy, and OT

Aromatherapy 101 for Children

I recently started to get into the whole “essential oil” thing.  As a yoga lover I have a tiny bit of holistic hippie in me, but as an OT, I’m more interested in using aromatherapy to help children learn, focus, and calm.  The thought of finding a safe alternative to medication that really works is pretty cool.  I decided I need to learn more about Aromatherapy and essential oils.  I found the perfect person to teach me (and you) in Amanda Oppenheim.   Amanda is an OT student who has a lot of experience with Aromatherapy.  She’s been shadowing me at work (school) a bit, and I’m learning from her as she learns from me! I asked Amanda to write up an “Intro to Aromatherapy” for those of you who want to learn the basics.  I specifically asked her to start from “square one” as though I knew nothing.  She will go more into depth in future posts to expand my (our) knowledge and to give us some great tips and tricks for helping our children calm or alert in an all-natural way.  So here is a wonderful guest post from an experienced Aromatherapy lover and a soon-to-be OT!

Aromatherapy 101

Hello everyone! My name is Amanda Oppenheim and I am an Occupational Therapy student. I am here to share my passion for essential oils and Aromatherapy. First off, let me explain what aromatherapy is. It is the use of essential oils from plants to heal through inhalation and massage. Aromatherapy helps to balance, harmonize and promote the health of the body, mind, and spirit.

Now, what are essential oils?

It is concentrated extracts taken from the roots, leaves, seeds, or blossoms of plants. Each contains its own active ingredient. In other words, it is the plant’s immune system, which helps defend it from insects, environmental conditions and disease. You rarely see your plants getting sick, right?

Essential oils are not new! They have been dated back to 4500 BC!

There are many different ways to use essential oils, but for this blog I am going to focus on Aromatherapy (inhalation). If you are interested in learning more about essential oils, my contact info will be at the end.

Benefits of Aromatherapy

  • Enhances mood and general feeling of well-being
  • Increases attention and alertness
  • Decreases the fight or flight (stress) response
  • Strengthens the immune system
  • Relieves stress and anxiety
  • Supports healthy breathing
  • Purifies the air
  • Familiar smells elicit pleasant memories

Your sense of smell can determine your mood and your ability to focus!

Our sense of smell is more important than you may think!

Our sense of smell is so unique because it is closely linked with memory as well as our emotional center in our brain. Our sense of smell (the olfactory bulb) sends signals to all areas of the brain, the areas of the brain that control behavior and mood, motivation, emotions, and memory. For your children, this is important because they can try to connect a certain smell to something they learn. Also, it can relax their body in order to allow them to retain information in school.

How difficult can it be for your child to learn if they are distracted, stressed, or upset? I know I can’t focus or retain information under those circumstances.

How to use Aromatherapy for inhalation

So simple, use either a diffuser or a cotton ball in a glass jar!

Also, you can place a drop in your palm, rub together and inhale.



Choosing the right oils

Calming (for the overactive child): Lavendar, Vetiver, Cedarwood, Sandalwood, Peace & Calming, Patchouli, Geranium, Clary Sage, Chamomile, Valor, Stress Relief and many more

Energizing: Peppermint, Basil, Bergamot, Citrus oils (lemon, lime, orange), Rosemary, Eucalyptus etc.

Precautions with Essential Oils

  • Every person is different and everyone will react differently to essential oils. One oil may work for you but may not work for someone else. Good thing there are hundreds of different types of essential oils!
  • Pregnant women and people with severe asthma should only use essential oils under the guidance of a trained professional and with full knowledge of your physician (Rarely, aromatherapy can induce side effects)
  • Keep essential oils away from the eyes and ears. If you do, soothe with a drop of vegetable oil – never water.
  • Epileptics and those with high blood pressure should consult their health care professional before using some essential oils. Avoid Hyssop, Fennel, and Idaho Tansy oils.
  • Read the label before using the essential oil

Remember! Not all oils are made equally! In order to see the therapeutic benefits, the oil has to be 100% pure. The FDA does not regulate essential oils so sometimes it may be hard to differentiate between 100% pure essential oils or essential oils with added chemicals and synthetics.

For me, I only use Young Living Essential Oils. This company is amazing in the way that they are an open book company. They own their own farms and distilleries and have made it their mission to produce products that are 100% pure.

Proceed with caution if you plan on using other essential oil brands. Key things to look out for that hint that the oil has been added with chemicals is if the bottle says for external use only! It makes you think…what did they add to that bottle that makes the oil unsafe? Also, is there’s an expiration date! Pure essential oils do not expire for a very, very long time.


*I would like to thank and credit Heidi MacAlpine for teaching me to use essential oils with children.

Amanda Oppenheim

Young Living Member # 1864788

Email: aoppenheim2491@gmail.com


( Affiliate links)

If you are interested in buying essential oils, click here!

For more information go to www.youngliving.com


Upcoming: my experience with essential oils and what oils may work best for your children! Also, how essential oils can be used other than inhalation.

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