The Difference Between Therapeutic Riding and Hippotherapy

It can be confusing to understand the difference between certain equine-assisted activities and therapies, particularly therapeutic riding and hippotherapy. On the surface, they seem very similar, and in fact they both accomplish many of the same goals, but there are some key differences between the two.

Therapeutic Riding

The distinguishing trait of therapeutic riding is the teaching of riding skills. The lessons are planned out with a certain riding objective in mind. Of course, these riding skills are targeted towards the rider's goals and needs, but the core of the lesson is still riding skills. For example, a rider who wants to work on improving their core strength would do so by learning riding skills such as sitting with proper riding posture or standing in 2-point position.

Therapeutic riding lessons are taught by a PATH Intl. Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor who goes through a rigorous certification process and completes continued education on relevant topics annually. PATH Intl. emphasizes that therapeutic riding lessons focus on a riding skill and the What's, Why's, and How's of that riding skill. It is a simple yet effective way to make sure our riders are getting the full scope of what they are learning.


Hippotherapy, named after the Latin word "hippo-" for horse, is a therapeutic practice that is utilized by occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech pathologists. Instead of teaching riding skills, these health professionals use the horse for its dynamic surface and specialized movement to accomplish a non-horse related goal with their client. In this setting, the horse acts as a therapeutic tool, rather than a riding partner.

These lessons are conducted by a licensed professional and must be under the supervision of a PATH Intl. Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor. This ensures that the session is conducted safely, as per PATH Intl.'s standards.


Both therapeutic riding and hippotherapy are extremely beneficial equine-assisted therapies. Their differences define them, but their similarities are what make them truly powerful.