Opening Worlds of Speech With ‘Hippotherapy’ Part 2

By Dutch Henry Created: August 9, 2012 Last Updated: August 20, 2012
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Hippotherapy—using horses to aid therapy—can help children break through psychological barriers, including speech problems, which are Freeman’s specialty. (Courtesy of HorseTalk Therapy)

Hippotherapy—using horses to aid therapy—can help children break through psychological barriers, including speech problems, which are Freeman’s specialty. (Courtesy of HorseTalk Therapy)

In Part 1, we learned about the hippotherapy program called HorseTalk, which Toby Freeman developed for children with speech difficulties. She’d always known of the connection horses could make with people if the people would listen. 

One day she had an epiphany. She thought of her clients who needed something more to help them open doors of communication. She thought of the ADHD and autistic children who had so many sensory issues to deal with. And she thought of the magic of motion. She asked herself, “Why can’t I bring the children to the horses?” 

She immediately began to research the use of horses for therapy. Toby found that people had been using horses for more than 30 years for physical therapy, working with patients physically impaired from head and spinal-cord injuries and stroke. Occupational therapists had been using horses to assist in working on posture, balance, and fine-motor abilities in children. 

Confident that therapy with horses would be able to help her clients with speech-language challenges, Toby set out to find a way to become educated in equine-assisted therapy. She discovered there was a program for certification in Georgia. 

She completed Level 1 training from the American Hippotherapy Association, and on June 3, 2008, Toby achieved North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) certification as a clinical riding instructor for therapeutic riding. NARHA is now known as the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.).

With the purchase of a special quarter-horse mare and borrowing a child from her existing clientele, Toby began using hippotherapy to open doors of communication with her clients. Currently, in her traditional speech-language therapy program, Toby sees about 50 patients a week, with about 10 going to HorseTalk hippotherapy sessions.

Toby has three horses in the HorseTalk stable. The hippotherapy sessions are designed to address a wide variety of client needs, such as autism, receptive-expressive language disorders, auditory processing disorders, language learning disabilities, stuttering, stroke, cerebral palsy, psychological disorders, and other conditions that impact a person’s ability to communicate.

Toby explained that a horse has a remarkable way of receiving communication and processing it. A horse has a way of filtering out one’s blockages and fears to get what the client is communicating. 

All of Toby’s programs are based on rewarding the children for success. Many times, the first time a child feels the joy of communicating with ease is in a session on a horse. Children feel the reward when the horse responds to their touch or word. 

But there is more than that. Some of it is physical, too. The feeling of sitting on a horse—the power, the warmth, the movement of the horse as the child is led around the arena—stimulates the child’s very core. It can make it easier to breathe, sit upright, and focus. 

Some parts of the lessons are as simple as sitting on the horse and playing with a doll. Children may start out by simply brushing the horse. They may play catch with a ball while sitting on the horse. Some have never tossed a ball before. 

Sadly, Nathan developed an allergy to horses and no longer goes to ride, but he continues to improve and expand his world by sessions with Toby in traditional therapy. 

Many times, Toby’s HorseTalk clients require only a few sessions with horses to break through the barriers and open their world of speech and communication. They can then continue on with traditional therapy, building on the progress started with a horse. Some of them carry over their new-learned skills to novel settings within a few weeks.

To learn more about HorseTalk’s programs or to talk with Toby about hippotherapy for speech, visit the website at

Dutch Henry is a novelist and a freelance writer who writes about “people and horses helping horses and people.” You can reach Dutch at His novel “We’ll Have the Summer” is available on Amazon and Dutch’s website

This is Part 2 of a two-part series. Click here to read Part 1.

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