As early as 1969, the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) recognized the physically therapeutic impact of riding for those with physical disabilities. With promising results, the interest in this approach grew, and NARHA soon expanded to it present size of more than 800 member centers, over 3,500 certified instructors and 6,500 members. The benefit horses can offer was soon realized to extend beyond the physical realm, and a number of organizations offering both psychotherapy and learning partnering with horses began to emerge.
Among the first of these was the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA), which as a nonprofit organization, now offers certifications in either equine assisted psychotherapy, or equine assisted learning. Soon thereafter, linda Kohanov wrote her bestselling book, The Tao of Equus, and with an healthy following, started Epona Equestrian Services. Recognized as a pioneer in the field, Kohanov offers workshops, apprenticeships and leadership programs for those interested in incorporating the intuitive nature into the personal of professional lives.
With these two prominent organizations in place, longtime expert in the filed of equine facilitated psychotherapy, and NARHA professional, Barbara Rector, introduced the healing benefits of horses to Sierra Tucson, an exclusive drug and alcohol addiction center. The first center of its kind to partake in this ground breaking approach, Sierra Tucson soon also became recognized as a pioneer in the world of addiction recovery.
With professional respect now turned in her direction, Rector partnered with NARHA to found the Equine Facilitated Mental Health Association, (EFMHA), itself an innovative organization in it’s quest to provide professional standards for what had now become quite a popular field. In 2005, EFMHA presented the first set of nationally recognized standards from which equine professionals working in mental health would now have to adhere to.
However, as the excitement about horses offering healing to humans grew, and a burgeoning opportunity was realized, many smaller organizations quickly opened their doors to offer certifications and workshops as well. Not recognized by NARHA, EAGALA, or any governing body, these young organizations added to what remains a contentious debate about the safety protocols needed to protect the uninformed clients from potential injury.
And the interest in equine therapy has not escaped the educational field with smaller colleges such as Prescott College, in Arizona, and Bethany College, in West Virginia both offering certification programs, and in the case of Prescott College, a full Marriage and Family Therapist licensure track program in equine facilitated psychotherapy, and learning.
Today, although both horse people and mental health professionals have a host of options in incorporating horse healing into their practice, only NAHRA/EFMHA offer nationally recognized standards in the field.