top of page

Research Shows Equine 

Activities Help Children with Autism

Research indicates combining horses and children with Autism in a therapeutic setting may improve motor performance and behavior.

Research shows the movement of horses can help children with Autism.

 Animal assisted activities are beneficial physically as well as emotionally.

The Horses and Humans Research Foundation provided funding to Washington University in St. Louis with the purpose of determining if using horse movement could improve balance and behavior in children with Autism.

HIPPOTHERAPY: The team measured outcomes from Occupational and Physical Therapy using horse movement for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The project was innovative because it used objective quantitative data collection in addition to qualitative standardized clinical scales.

The project followed thirteen children with Autism Spectrum Disorder as they participated in 12 weeks of 45-minute weekly sessions. These weekly treatments were conducted by an occupational therapist (OT) or OT Assistant who used horses, their movement and related activities as a primary part of the OT treatment.

“Hippotherapy is commonly used for children with ASD,” said Principal Investigator Tim L. Shurtleff, OTD, OTR/L. “However, up to this point no systematic evidence had been published on the impact of hippotherapy on children with ASD. No studies of hippotherapy have been reported about children with ASD but many children with ASD participate in hippotherapy. Evidence was needed to support treatment planning, and to support reimbursement for these interventions.”

Quantitatively, several variables studied indicated that participants had significant improvements in balance. Improving balance may enable these children to participate in many activities which may have previously been difficult for them. Qualitatively, interviews with parents to measure social responsiveness, sensory response, adaptive behaviors and outcomes at home, at school and on the playground were used to determine if treatments made a difference in the lives of the participants with ASD.

Several “life outcomes” were found to be significant. Parents reported the child learned to listen better, became less stubborn or sullen, showed higher levels of confidence during participation in leisure activities, played and interacted more appropriately with peers and they gained better body awareness.

author Amy Herdy from

bottom of page