An Interview with Hippotherapy Professional Amanda DeLizzio, by Claire Dorotik

After the popularity of my last interview with an equine therapy professional, I thought another would be appropriate. This one is with occupational therapist, Amanda DeLizzio. DeLizzio specializes in hippotherapy, and works at the Memorial Hospital program in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Memorial Health System partners with Pikes Peak Therapeutic Riding Center (PPTRC) in Falcon to provide these services. PPTRC is the only therapeutic riding center in the region that has received premier accredited status from the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association.

1. What would you say the largest benefits of equine therapy?
There are so many benefits to using an equine in therapy.  The biggest benefits in the fields of occupational and physical therapy are improving postural control, core strength and endurance, balance, coordination, and motor planning.  These are more the physical benefits, but there are also so many emotional and psychological benefits as well.  The children are empowered by riding the horse and get an amazing sense of power and control by riding a 1,000 lb animal.  The children really connect with the horses and gain so much self-confidence.

2. Can you describe an equine therapy case that stands out for you?
Yes, I can think of many.  I have seen children take their 1st steps from riding a horse as the movement of the horse encourages walking.  I have seen children talk for the 1st time on the horse as they are encouraged to ask the horse to ‘go.’  I have seen children overcome their fears and overcome some sensory aversions.  I think the case that stands out the most is a little 4 year old child I treated who was not talking, was scared of everything in her environment, had sensory aversions to eating, was scared of all loud noises, and was fearful in general of her environment.  The horse transformed her and after the 8 week session she was talking, interacting in the environment like a typical 4 year old, and smiled and laughed all the time.  The horse changed her!

3. What advice would you give to others interested in entering the field of equine therapy?
For patients: I would encourage anyone who has a disability or a weakness to participate in this kind of therapy.  It is transformational.  For therapists: I would encourage you to get involved, but first learn some solid equine skills as this is essential in performing this therapy.  Train the volunteers and empower them to be part of the sessions as if it were not for the volunteers, this kind of therapy would not happen.  Most importantly, take care of the horses!  They are truly our partner and need to always be treated with love, respect, and compassion.

4. In what areas do you feel like the field of equine therapy can improve?
Educating insurance companies so this therapy is covered!  Hippotherapy is just a treatment tool used by an occupational, physical or speech therapist as part of the treatment plan.  It does NOT need a special billing code and is performed under the regular treatment plan.  Insurance companies get this very confused and many are denying it!  There is a difference between hippotherapy (performed by a therapist) and therapeutic riding (performed by a PATH riding instructor).

5. What is the most fulfilling aspect of working in this field?
The progress and improved quality life of the patients!  The patients LOVE hippotherapy and most patients make so much progress and so quickly when using the horse in their treatment sessions.  The connection between the patient and the horse is truly amazing and cannot be described in words.  Horses are very therapeutic and their natural beauty, energy, and connection with people make a difference in so many lives!  I know they do in mine!

Thanks to the dedication and hard work of people like Amanda, many will have the opportunity to benefit from the multitude of ways in which horses can help us.

Claire Dorotik LMFT

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