Research Projects


Funded by: Steinhardt School of Education Challenge Fund Grant

Year funded: 2003

Development of a Documentation Form for Equine Assisted Therapy
Anita Perr, MA OT, ATP, FAOTA, Clinical Assistant Professor

Project Abstract

Current equine assisted therapy practice requires therapists, primarily occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech language pathologists to rely on non-standardized observations to document progress. To date, there is no evaluation or documentation form that is common to clinicians or recommended by the American Hippotherapy Association (AHA). This paucity of documentation limits the ability to determine the efficacy of this treatment approach.

The therapeutic effects of horseback riding for human beings have been widely recognized (Bertoti, 1988; Bracher, 2000; Donahue, 1987; Engel, 1984; Fitzpatrick & Tebay, 1998; Splinter-Watkins & Calhoun, 1999). Today, therapeutic riding is an umbrella term that includes a variety of equine activities in which people with disabilities participate (American Hippotherapy Association [AHA], 2000). These activities range in focus from recreational to educational to medical (Splinter-Watkins & Calhoun, 1999).

The medical orientation of therapeutic riding is referred to as "equine assisted therapy" and is the focus of this project. Equine assisted therapy was previously called "hippotherapy" and may still be known by some people by that name. Equine assisted therapy is a treatment approach that uses a horse's multidimensional movement as a treatment tool to address a client's needs (Splinter-Watkins & Calhoun, 1999). The therapist is responsible for directing the movement of the horse, grading sensory input, analyzing client responses, and adjusting the treatment plan according to the client's needs (Splinter-Watkins & Calhoun, 1999; AHA, 2000).

This project intends to develop a documentation form to be used to track performance (functional outcomes) of clients with physical disabilities using equine assisted therapy. The documentation form will:

  • provide therapists with a form that is efficient and more useful than current document methods, and
  • provide a structure for collecting data on equine assisted therapy that can be used to determine the efficacy of this practice area.

An exploratory design will be used where experts in the field will discuss the contents of such a documentation form. This project builds on one conducted by Anita Perr and three students in the Department of Occupational Therapy (Jacqueline Jones, Alexandra Orloff and Kate Catinella) in conjunction with Ilaria Borghese at the Somerset Hills Handicapped Riding Center. The occupational therapy students viewed videotapes of equine assisted therapy sessions in order to identify aspects of treatment to include in the documentation.

This project intends to refine the form by asking experts to discuss their opinions of documentation of equine assisted therapy, by asking them to provide feedback on the content of videotaped treatment sessions, and by asking for their feedback on the draft documentation form.

American Hippotherapy Association (AHA). (2000). Denver, Co: The North American Riding for the Handicapped Association. Retrieved June 17 2002, from
Bertoti, D. B. (1988). Effect of therapeutic horseback riding on posture in children with cerebral palsy. Physical Therapy, 68(10), 1505-1512.