Healing Mind, Body, and Spirit

Dignity Health Foundation - East Valley

male patient riding a horse while three therapist help and walk along the horse
Patient receiving
hippotherapy

Dignity Health prides itself on offering patients new and innovative ways to enhance the health care experience and reap the clinical benefits of healing mind, body, and spirit. One unique and effective way of stimulating healing is hippotherapy or horse-aided therapy. This form of therapy has been recognized for more than 50 years for its significant physical and emotional benefits.

Thanks to a generous $50,000 donation from Mike Halle, Trustee, Ruth McCormick Tankersley Charitable Trust, Dignity Health Foundation - East Valley recently hosted a series of “Introduction to Hippotherapy” sessions in the Phoenix area for patients, caregivers, physicians, social workers, rehabilitation workers, and anyone else who wanted to learn first-hand about the therapy options and their benefits.  The sessions were located in a farm environment and included demonstrations, lectures, and lunch.

Hippotherapy professionals explained how horse-aided therapy can be used to help stroke patients as well as those with Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, depression, and many more ailments.  These sessions highlighted the mind, body, spirit combination to aid in healing and rehabilitation.  Riding a horse is not a requirement for inclusion in this type of therapy.

The goal of hippotherapy is to be in the environment itself, using the horse as a tool during the session. A hippotherapy session will include occupational skills, physical and speech therapies, and counseling.  The therapists also discuss in-home therapy for the patient between hippotherapy sessions and will highlight the need for respite for the caregivers.

Feedback from each of the seven sessions will be taken to evaluate the benefits of offering this program on an ongoing basis for patients  - as prescribed by physicians or rehabilitation services.  Additional donations are currently being secured.

Benefits of hippotherapy

  • Helps facilitate normal walking patterns because a horse’s walk is rhythmic and repetitive; similar to human pattern of walking in our pelvis
  • If a patient is having trouble with gait and reciprocal movements, a horse’s gait can help simulate and re-connect the dots in the brain of how a person should walk
  • Improves motor planning and weight shifting
  • Improves tone and muscle strength
  • Increases endurance and enhances deep breathing
  • Reduces stress
  • Improves balance and coordination
  • Additional benefits allow a human and animal interaction, a connection that is so valuable especially for non-verbal clients