A man is brushing a chestnut horse in a grassy field in the sunshine.
Share or print this story.
12 July 2022

Equine assisted therapy.

It’s no secret that being around animals can make you feel happier. But did you know it can also improve your wellbeing and be used as a clinical therapeutic tool?

In fact, there are therapies involving activities with horses which are collectively called equine assisted therapy (EAT). These relatively new options can make a big difference to the wellbeing and recovery of both children and adults.

Today, we will take a closer look at equine assisted therapy, how it may help some people with a disability and how you might be able to access funds for this type of therapy using your NDIS Plan.


What is equine assisted therapy?

Equine assisted therapy (EAT) covers a range of activities involving horses (see below for details) which may or may not include riding.

Activities may include horse grooming, feeding, riding and therapy based programs working with a professional such as an occupational therapist or psychologist.


Why are horses used and not other animals?

Horses have been found to act similarly to humans in their social and responsive behaviour. It’s easy for the rider to connect with the horse as they mirror the rider’s emotions.

Just being near horses or stroking them can reduce stress and anxiety levels and increase a sense of wellbeing.

“Being around horses can help people to learn self control of their behaviour and self regulation of their emotion,” says The University of Newcastle’s Dr Kirrilly Thompson in The overlooked benefits of being around horses.[1]


Who can equine assisted therapy help?

Equine assisted therapy is suitable for people of any age and may be able to assist people with a range of disabilities including:

  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Down syndrome
  • Spina bifida
  • Movement dysfunction
  • Developmental delay
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Visual impairment
  • Post traumatic stress disorder


What are the main types of equine assisted therapy?

1. Therapeutic horseback riding (such as Riding for the Disabled)
Usually taught by a qualified riding instructor, therapeutic horseback riding is used to improve coordination, balance, posture, muscle tone, confidence and wellbeing. This may or may not be taught by a qualified therapist. For more information see Riding for the Disabled: How can it help?

2. Hippotherapy
Hippotherapy is “physical, occupational, and speech therapy that utilises the natural gait and movement of a horse to provide motor, and sensory input.”[2] It usually also involves an occupational therapist, physiotherapist or a speech and language therapist.Unlike therapeutic horseback riding, hippotherapy is usually connected to learning goals.

Hippotherapy can shorten recovery times, improve balance, mobility, muscle control and posture. Studies show it can increase adaptive behaviours such as communication, self care and social interaction.[3]

3. Equine assisted/facilitated learning
Equine assisted learning involves participants learning how to care for, groom and feed the horses. This often helps participants to improve self awareness and discover how non-verbal communication might affect interactions with other people in their lives.

It may be ideal for people who do not want to compete or ride. For more information, check out our previous story Equine facilitated learning.

4. Equine assisted psychotherapy
Mental health professionals use horses to help participants learn about themselves and discuss feelings, patterns and behaviours. The goal of this type of therapy is to help in social, emotional, cognitive and behavioural ways.

It is important to distinguish this type of therapy from equine assisted learning. Equine assisted psychotherapy should always be provided by a qualified mental health professional.


What are some of the benefits of equine assisted therapy?

Equine assisted therapy can help some people with cognitive, physical, emotional and social wellbeing including:

Cognitive benefits:

  • Attention span
  • Concentration
  • Motor planning
  • Tactile awareness
  • Sensory integration.

Physical benefits:

  • Muscle tone
  • Strength
  • Endurance
  • Posture
  • Balance
  • Range of motion
  • Coordination.

Emotional and social benefits:

  • Self esteem
  • Self confidence
  • Self reliance
  • Improved judgement.


Is equine assisted therapy covered by the NDIS?

To obtain NDIS funding for equine assisted therapy, it will need to pass the “reasonable and necessary” test. This means the request must be related to your disability, good value for money and likely to be of benefit for you.

It is important that your request for funding is connected to one of your NDIS goals so be sure to connect the activity with your goals.

Example goal 1
To meet new people and improve my communication skills.

How equine assisted therapy might help:

I would meet people I have not met before, make new friends and learn to follow instructions about how to ride a horse.

In this case, funding is likely to come from your Core supports budget.

Example goal 2

To improve coordination and strength so that I can be more independent.

How equine assisted therapy could help:

The exercise of riding a horse will help strengthen my muscles, improving my ability to control my arms and hands and hopefully do more things for myself.

In this case, funding is likely to come from the Capacity Building budget. You may also be able to use your NDIS Community Participation budget to try out horse riding, test your capability and interest in further pursuing this activity.[4]

It may be helpful to obtain a letter of support from a physiotherapist or occupational outlining the type of therapy recommended and how it may help to achieve your goals.


Leap in! can help.

If you think equine assisted therapy might work for you, there are several providers across Australia on the Leap in! Provider Network Directory. Just click on the link, select horse/equine therapy from the service types and filter by locations to find a provider near you.

Take control of your NDIS budgets today. Give the Leap in! Crew a call on 1300 05 78 78.

Originally published 06 February 2020, updated 18 November 2021 and 12 July 2022.


[1] Dr Kirrilly Thompson, Horses and people, The overlooked benefits of being around horses, November/December 2019.
[2] Tuba Tulay Koca and Hilmi Ataseven, NCI, What is hippotherapy? The indications and effectiveness of hippotherapy, 15 January 2015
[3] Tuba Tulay Koca and Hilmi Ataseven, NCI, What is hippotherapy? The indications and effectiveness of hippotherapy, 15 January 2015
[4] National Disability Insurance agency, NDIS Pricing Arrangements and Price Limits 2021-2020 Version 1.2 (published 7/09/2021), p. 91.


Further reading.

ADHD and NDIS eligibility: Your questions answered.

Equine facilitated learning.

Riding for the Disabled: How can it help.

    Never miss an update – subscribe to Leap in! eNews.