I got an email not too long ago alerting me to the fact that someone had left a comment on the post, Hippotherapy. That someone just happened to be an Occupational Therapist who has been involved in Hippotherapy for the past couple of years. Barbara Smith kindly took the time to answer some questions regarding this unique form of therapy with horses.
Have you always been interested in horses and when did you start out in Hippotherapy? What is it exactly that you do?
I have always liked horses but did not have a lot of exposure to them since I grew up in New York City. I have been an occupational therapist for over 30 years mostly working in schools. Three years ago I went to a presentation by Temple Grandin.
She is a well known lecturer in the therapy field and talks about how her autism helps her to understand an animal’s perspective. She has a Ph.D. in Animal Science and designs cattle equipment.
I was inspired by her to learn about hippotherapy since I love being outdoors, getting exercise and working with children on the autism spectrum.
I use the horse as a treatment tool to work on goals such as increasing balance, strength, communication and motor skills. I love to design activities that help them process sensory information and use their hands during functional activities.
How much of your day/week is related to horses?
I only work two days a week at the hippotherapy farm. I also do home-care work where I help elderly people with low vision. In addition, I am finishing up revisions to a book about how parents can help their children to develop hand skills. It will be published by Therapro, Inc.
Of course, maintaining a website, two blogs and Youtube videos about my work is another job. But I find these projects fun and rewarding.
In this field of occupational therapy is it possible for someone to be a full time professional, earning a livable income?
Absolutely. Salaries vary according to work setting and what part of the country or world you live in but an occupational therapist can earn $40,000- $80,000 dollars a year.
I believe that the highest salaries are in long term care and hospital settings. I have been working in pediatrics where the salaries are on the lower end of the scale (in the U.S.).
What are the general steps taken to be able to provide such a service to clients?
Occupational therapists need to earn a Master’s Degree and also take a test to become a registered therapist. We then apply for state licensure and national certification.
Information is available at the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA.ORG).
Since I chose to work in the hippotherapy setting, I decided to earn additional certification by taking courses at the American Hippotherapy Association. Some jobs require this, others do not. There is a great deal of information and resources about hippotherapy on my web site: Horseot.com
Any advice for those interested in pursuing this line of work?
If you have a horse background it will be much easier to go into one of the professions that involve working with horses and people with disabilities.
Therapeutic riding instructors also work with disabled individuals teaching them riding skills. However, only physical, occupational and speech therapists do hippotherapy – that is doing therapy using the horse as a treatment tool to achieve therapeutic goals.
Someone interested in this line of work would have to attend a university program and continue with further training to learn about hippotherapy. But I want to add, that the thing I love the most about switching to this line of work is that the families and children are so appreciative and happy. I used to work in the schools where all parties were frustrated with the child’s struggles to succeed academically.
If a child simply sits on top of the moving horse – he or she is working hard and will be working toward goals while having fun.
Is there anything else with horses you’d love to learn about or try?
I have taken lessons to learn how to ride and vault. I want to do this again in the warmer weather. I know that the more I understand about horses and how it feels to ride and do different movements, the better I can deliver my services. It is also a lot of fun to learn these new skills at my age (over fifty years).
Favourite horse memory?
I briefly cantered. I find it challenging enough to trot but was very proud of myself when I got the horse to canter and didn’t fall off.
I am looking forward to having my current book project completed and then marketing. I love to write articles and give presentations, so marketing will be fun.
I feel that my book will help parents to choose the activities and toys that will help their children to learn. As a result of this early stimulation children will develop the hand and visual perceptual skills they need to read and write.
I have joined Toastmaster’s International this year. This organization helps its members to learn public speaking skills. Its a lot of fun and I plan on earning many blue ribbons!
Best thing about your sport/profession?
I enjoy thinking of creative ways to help children learn and I love to make something of value out of nothing.
I have written a whole book about designing therapeutic activities out of recycling items such as plastic laundry bottles. The book is called The Recycling Occupational Therapist published by Pro-ed. Inc.
“Where would a rider be without a horse?”