Equine Assisted Therapy

Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT) is a relatively new service. It has been the object of some controversy, both externally and internally. By externally we mean that it has been criticized for allegedly being over-promoted, and not supported as effective in well constructed research.  By internally we mean that among professionals providing EAT, considerable disagreement and conflict has arisen. The same apparent absence of well constructed research leaves the conflicts over methods unresolved.

Two organizations are primarily setting standards for this kind of activity.  They are "The Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA)" and "Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH International)"  EAGALA is a relatively new organization that is involved only in mental health treatment using horses.  It focuses on interaction between horses and people in therapy in situations other than riding. Some schools and programs claiming EAGALA equine therapy do include riding, but that is not part of EAGALA's agenda. By contrast, Path International started out with a focus on physical rehabilitation and skill building. More recently they have ventured into mental health areas. It is all about riding, while EAGALA is not involved with riding.

We are of the opinion that Equine Assisted Therapy is a useful tool in many situations, although we call attention to the absence of research support for its effectiveness. With that in mind, we strongly recommend that the presence or absence of EAT in any form not be the primary reason for choosing a particular school or program. We are aware that program marketing can over-emphasize the value of EAT. We have seen other consultants appearing to be overly influenced by availability of EAT. The first consideration, when looking at a therapeutic school or program, is whether the research backed resources are in place. Among the programs that do provide well researched methods, EAT programming may be quite beneficial.  Animal based therapies are SUSPECTED of being beneficial in attachment related programming, in parent child conflict, Oppositional and Defiant Disorder, addictions and some other issues around self-control.

We have become aware of the Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA), which some therapeutic programs have joined and from which they have obtained certification. We have not found any evidence that this organization makes any therapeutic claims. They appear to be only about riding instruction. We have no objection to a therapeutic school or program displaying CHA membership and certification, as that addresses the skill and safety of riding instruction. If fully qualified psychotherapists direct riding activities for a therapeutic purpose, and calling that a therapeutic activity. However, riding instruction on the premises of a therapeutic school or program directed by a CHA certified instructor who is not a qualified therapist should not be called Equine Assisted Therapy unless a qualified clinician is directing the activities for a stated therapeutic purpose.

We know of one program, Arivaca Boys' Ranch, where the participants are given the task of training a completely untrained horse from the beginning and taking that horse to the point of being a reliable riding horse. They consider that an integral part of their method of change.  We have not heard them call that part of their program "Equine Assisted Therapy." But it is a variation on that theme and is worthy of considering.

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Last update February 13, 2018

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