With equine therapy abounding, it has quickly become a status symbol among the country’s most prestigious treatment centers. However, while promulgating their use of horses to uncover the hidden emotions of substance abuse and dual diagnosis patients has become popular, many centers have also struggled with how best to offer this valuable treatment.
When equine therapy first emerged on the forefront, there was really no set protocol to be followed. While some centers purchased their own horses — and further advertised the availability of the horses on the grounds — others contracted out this modality through an independent provider. Further complicating the matter, some employed the use of both a licensed therapist and a horse handler, while others simply utilized the horse handler, or the psychotherapist who happened to “like” horses.
However, as one can only imagine with any new, relatively unproven, modality, the outcomes were scattered and accidents happened.
And even when there was a clear method to follow, as presented by the Equine Growth and Learning Association, or EAGALA (www.eagala.org) work with horses wasn’t free of harm. To be sure, over the past five years, EAGALA reported more accidents than any other equine therapy approach. (Reports on any psychotherapeutic harm that may have occurred as a result of the inappropriate “interpretations” of untrained horse handlers are not available.) Yet perhaps due to the presentation of exercises such as “temptation alley,” that correlated with what substance abuse and eating disorder patients might be experiencing, EAGALA was also the most popular method of practicing equine therapy.
So given that the popularity and demand for equine therapy has surpassed any risk that may be incurred, what is important for the treatment center that would like to offer this effective therapeutic modality? Here is a list of guidelines.
- Look first for a horse handler that is both certified by the North American Handicapped Riding Association, or NAHRA (www.nahra.org) as this association provides clear guidelines to ensure the physical, and now psychotherapeutic safety of clients.
- Use a psychotherapist who is certified by a major organization, such as the Equine Facilitated Mental Health Association, or EFMHA (www.narha.org), EPONA, (www.taoofequus.com), or EAGALA, and has at least five years experience performing equine therapy.
- Should you choose to house the horses at your center, work with an equine professional proficient in stable design and management.
- Should you choose to contract out your equine therapy program, be sure that your provider has independent insurance that covers your clients, and himself. Additionally ensure that the stable to be used has provided consent for equine therapy to be performed on the premises. At this point you should also employ an equine professional proficient in stable management to survey the stable for safety and any potential risks that could harm your patients.
- Periodically observe the equine therapy sessions to be sure that safety protocol are being followed.
Following these guidelines, equine therapy can not only provide the treatment center with a popular modality, but a safe and effective one as well.
Photo by Konstantin Koukopoulos, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.