Between 2 and 3 years of age children learn many matching skills such as identifying and matching pictures and fitting simple non-interlocking puzzle pieces into a board. These skills can be reinforced during the hippotherapy session. It is easiest for children to work on puzzles while facing backwards on the horse using the wide surface of the horse's croup. The animal puzzle shown here is placed inside a box with the puzzle pieces attached to the box lid with velcro. This makes the task easier for child and therapist to manage. Children can work on balance while naming animals and making their sounds.
The opportunity to choose which animal picture to look for is fun and promotes communication skills. I use a small photo album filled with animal pictures that match larger pictures attached to the walls in the arena.
This puzzle has the picture of each animal inside the puzzle board so that the child knows exactly what the piece looks like. Therapists can attach the puzzle pieces to walls in the arena so that children can look for them while riding. Children are encouraged to pull the reins and say "whoa" when their horses approach the needed piece. This activity develops scanning skills.
This photo album requires the child to match below the same picture. It is a relatively easy task since there will be only two choices. Children work on balance while reaching for the cards or they can work on bilateral hand skills by taking the pictures out of a small bag that they hold.
As children develop matching skills offer boards with a greater number of pictures to increase the challenge.
Barbara Smith, M.S., OTR/L author of, The Recycling Occupational Therapist