Portland, OR (KPTV) -- Four-year-old Abigail Fantz giggles and her curls bounce as she stands straight up on a moving horse. She's held in place by a team of adults, but she's not practicing a circus trick - she is in a unique therapy called hippotherapy (hippo is Greek for horse.)


Abigail has cerebral palsy and can't walk without a walker, but standing, kneeling, and sitting on a pony named Pippin is strengthening her trunk and her left side. Eventually, she'll be able to sit up and stand up straight and eventually walk all on her own.


For the last two years, she has attended Forward Stride once a week in Beaverton, Ore. where physical therapist Laurie Schick, a team of helpers, and pony Pippin worked with Abigail.
Schick says a horse's gait is similar to that of a human's - it is variable, rhythmic and repetitive.


"So instead of teaching riding we are using the movement of the horse to work on things like trunk control, strengthening balance." says Schick.
Hippotherapists say patients get sensory stimulation from the horse's movements.


Abigail's mom Michelle Thompson says hippotherapy seems to be working for her daughter -- she recently took 20 steps all on her own.


Thompson's goal is for Abigail to walk without a walker, but she says hippotherapy is offering her little girl more than just physical skills.


"I think, most important for us, she's gained so much confidence by being up on a horse and I love seeing how proud she is of herself," Thompson said.


Abigail shares a special bond with her pony, and after her weekly lesson, she grooms Pippin and feeds her, too. It started as therapy for a crippling disease, but one day it could become a lifelong passion.