The Benefits of Combining Equestrian Simulators and Real Horses in Hippotherapy


“the use of horse riding as a therapeutic or rehabilitative treatment, especially as a means of improving co-ordination, balance and strength”

What is the difference between Hippotherapy and therapeutic riding?

Hippotherapy is a form of speech, occupational and physical therapy that utilises the movements and warmth of a horse’s body, to develop neurological and physical functioning. Unlike RDA/therapeutic riding, sessions are led by a trained therapist and act as a treatment rather than a lesson or a recreational activity. In the UK, Hippotherapy is a physiotherapy led service.

Equestrian Simulators

Equestrian Simulators have never been advocated as a substitute for the ‘real thing’, either by the manufacturers OR the customers using them. There are elements of horse riding that a simulator simply cannot replicated; the health benefits of participating in an outdoor activity and the emotional bond between rider and horse.

Instead, those that use simulators; jockey coaches, dressage instructors or RDA teachers, now encourage a combined approach to their teaching programmes. Dressage pupils can now train on a ‘horse’ to a Grand Prix level and jockey coaches can train their pupils from the classroom. Simulators offer an intensive, yet safe environment to teach and encourage new skills, regardless of the attitude of the pupil, as a preliminary to the real thing. They are also used to refresh technique, maintain fitness and continually improve performance.

Other factors including;

  • convenience
  • health and safety
  • overweight riders
  • accurate feedback on performance and round the clock teaching (without the concern of the welfare of the horse)

 mean that simulators can compliment all teaching and clinical facilities, from recreational centres to professional training establishments.

How Simulators can be Incorporated into Hippotherapy

Equestrian Simulators have long been championed by the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA), but with regards to Hippotherapy, some argue that the warmth and movement of a horse’s body cannot be replaced, even by the most advanced simulators.

However in some extreme cases; behavioural difficulties, confidence issues and physical disability can mean that putting someone on a real horse straight away is not the most appropriate course of action.

Research supporting the benefits of combining simulators with real horses

Chartered Physiotherapist Lynne Munro, MSc MCSP RDAC UKCC2, who holds Hippotherapy sessions at Perry RDA and Clewd Special Riding Centre, has carried out a study into using a simulator as part of a complementary approach within Hippotherapy.

Her study observed a 40 month old child who was advised by a paediatric physiotherapist to undergo Hippotherapy. Because of the nature of the child’s behaviour, as well as severely delayed motor skills, using a real horse deemed counterproductive and was instead advised to begin with fortnightly sessions on a Racewood simulator, initially with a physiotherapist acting as a back-rider.

Within months the child was riding without the back-rider and vast improvements were seen in his postural control and balance, to name just some of the positive results. 4 months later the child was riding, and enjoying the benefits of, a real horse. Overall enjoyment was also noted in his body language and facial expression. image3

To conclude, the study demonstrated that combining equestrian simulators with traditional Hippotherapy saw that the aims of the referral were met and the child saw vast improvements as hoped.


Many thanks to the parents for supplying the images

For Lynne’s full paper please follow the link;

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One Response to The Benefits of Combining Equestrian Simulators and Real Horses in Hippotherapy

  1. Walter says:

    I’m interested a simulator the price hippotherapy.
    I write from Panama´
    licdo. Walter Gomez

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