In the field of psychotherapy, the concept of ethical responsibilities is a very important one. Inherent in this responsibility is every therapist’s duty to protect and do no harm to the client. And in the field of equine therapy nothing is different, except the horse.
Do practicing equine therapists think about the ethical treatment of the horse? Probably not as much as they should. In the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association’s (EAGALA) published code of ethics, unfortunately, not once is the ethical treatment of the horse mentioned.
Consequently, EAGALA has been criticized for their treatment of the horse as a therapeutic tool — an object, if you will — as opposed to a sentient being. At the time EAGALA was coming into it’s own, the North American Handicapped Riding Association (NAHRA), which had been in existence for many years, was doing some changing. Now honoring the incorporation of horses as much more than a physical rehabilitation animal, NAHRA was working with the Equine Facilitated Mental Health Association, which had been started by two core members of NAHRA to develop standards of practice when working with horses and mental health patients.
While standards of practice were developed, a much larger change occurred. EFMHA split from NAHRA, and then became the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Int.).
PATH now offers certification programs for both equine specialists and mental health professionals. In the description of the equine specialist certification program, PATH states, “ES workshops will detail the role the equine specialist is meant to play in a session, offer lesson roleplays and hands-on experience, and discuss the therapy and education teams and the importance of the equine professional’s role in maintaining the safety of all in the team – particularly the equine partner.”
In time, one would hope that all equine facilitated psychotherapy programs will include the horse under the umbrella of ethical protection that all patients deserve.
After all, the horse is, in many ways, just as vulnerable as a mental health patient.
Horse eating hay photo from Shutterstock.