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New Developments in the Field of Equine Therapy

new developments in equine therapyRecently, the Equine Facilitated Mental Health Association,  (EFMHA), and the forerunner of equine related healing North American Riding for the Handicapped, (NARHA), joined forces.

Before equine facilitated mental health came along, equine therapy was known as riding for the handicapped. While this form of therapy was, and still is, quite valuable in reestablishing physical capacities for those with disabilities, the emotional and psychological functioning of these children (and adults) was not addressed.

However, the two founding members of EFMHA, Barbara Rector ( and Ann Alden MA, CEIP-ED (, both registered NARHA instructors, soon began to realize that with increased equine contact, the social, emotional, and psychological condition of people changed.

Not only did this recognition occur to Alden and Rector, but several others performing riding for the handicapped began to speak about the mental health benefits of time spent with horses. As Alden and rector had already started Therapeutic Riding of Tucson (TROT), and introduced equine facilitated therapy to the world renowned addiction center, Sierra Tucson, (, the timing seemed appropriate to begin EFMHA.

Soon after Alden and Rector started their organization, others began to emerge. Among them were Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA,, and EPONA ( Yet with the field of equine therapy being quite new, it was soon troubled with mild controversy over the best methods to approach healing with horses.

While the disagreements ranged from the use of “exercises” with horses — vs. EFMHA’s insistence that the horse be treated as a sentient being, and wellbeing considered within the therapeutic relationship — to the presence of both an equine professional and a therapist, the strongest contention hinged around standards of care. The problem lie in the fact that although equine therapy was widely performed, there was no agreement on protocol, method of practice, or, contraindications.

Soon, many in the field, and primarily those active within EFMHA, began to compare equine therapy to NARHA, and searched for standards similar to those easily maintained by them. It was also at this time that the most outspoken about the need for standards of care, EFMHA, began to explore the potential benefits of merging with NARHA in establishing those much needed industry standards.

By using the protocol already in place and well agreed upon, perhaps the field of equine therapy could be improved, and some regularity adhered to. The potential benefit of holding EFMHA under the umbrella of NARHA were not lost on Alden and Rector who were both integral forces in this new development. However, both did not fail to weigh public concern and members of EFMHA were asked to render opinion surrounding to potential merger. As the voices began to sound, it soon became clear that practitioners — both “equine specialists and licensed therapists — were in consensus that joining with NAHRA and adopting their standards would lead to improvement in the field.

Now that the merger is complete, a set of nationally recognized standards for equine facilitated mental health is underway. And while at the moment, the new developments have created a wealth of work to be completed, there is a sense of shared excitement that now, what is known as equine therapy will enjoy increased credibility, and improved quality of care, not only for the patients, but for their equine friends as well.

Photo by Dainis Matisons, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.

New Developments in the Field of Equine Therapy

Claire Dorotik-Nana, LMFT

Claire Dorotik-Nana LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in post-traumatic growth, leveraging adversity, and other epic human achievements. Claire has written multiple continuing education courses for Professional Development Resources, Zur Institute, and International Sport Science Association. Claire has also authored multiple books, including:
Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards and On The Back Of A Horse: Harnessing The Healing Power Of The Human-Equine Bond. For more information about Leveraging Adversity or Claire, visit

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APA Reference
Dorotik-Nana, C. (2011). New Developments in the Field of Equine Therapy. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 12, 2019, from


Last updated: 13 Mar 2011
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