Horses play a bigger role in occupational therapy - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Horses play a bigger role in occupational therapy

May 24th, 2021 development
Horses play a bigger role in occupational therapy


Horses are becoming important to occupational therapy assistants.

OTAs play an important role in helping people with challenges and disabilities participate in everyday life activities.

They are not confined to an office or desk for their work and sometimes aren’t even confined to the indoors.

That means with the increase in creative alternatives to treatment, hippotherapy has become an important addition to an OTA’s toolbox.

According to the American Hippotherapy Association, hippotherapy is a physical, occupational and speech therapy that utilizes the natural gait and movement of a horse to provide motor and sensory input.

It is based on improvement of neurologic functions, and sensory processes, and used for patients with physical and mental disorders.

Karen Heslop, a certified OTA and a graduate of Pima Medical Institute’s Mesa Campus,  loves helping children and that led her to Able Acres in Queen Creek.

Able Acres helps special needs children through a variety of ways – including hippotherapy.

Heslop believes she gets more out of the children with the help of the horse.

“From my experience, they are much more focused on the horse rather than just sitting in a clinic at a table,” she said. “I can get more work out of the kids, and they’re more successful on the horse.”

Able Acres is also an externship location for many Pima Medical students preparing to graduate.

Carlos Lopez is one of those externs. He has been working as a certified nursing assistant for the past decade and says his love of helping people drew him to the OTA program.

“The instructors are amazing. They really break it down for you. They’re amazing, and the help they offer, they offer a lot of resources as well.”

While Lopez says he will likely move on to work with geriatric patients, he says his externship with hippotherapy has been a rewarding and great learning opportunity.

Heslop went back to school after her children were grown, and says while she did face some challenges as an older student; it was well worth the struggle.

“I went back at 44 and so I was one of the older students there, which was kind of a unique experience. All these kids knew how to use computers really well, submit their papers, and power points and that is something I had to learn,” Heslop said.

“What I loved about the program at Pima Medical, is that it starts from the ground level by just introducing what occupational therapy is, to body systems, how things work and how our body moves. Everything was just really great,” she added.



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