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Equine Therapy Certifications: Which Is Best?


Recently, a member of the Equine Facilitated Mental Health Association (EFMHA), www.narha.org. posed an important question. New to the field of equine therapy, and only just beginning to amass an understanding of the practice, this horse enthusiast was wondering which, of the many certification now available if the horse healing world would be best.

6 thoughts on “Equine Therapy Certifications: Which Is Best?

  • April 13, 2011 at 9:18 am

    I am an EAGALA trained licensed mental health professional who has been conducting equine assisted psychotherapy for 7 years (20+ years experience as a private practitioner/supervisor/trainer) and direct an equine assisted family therapy program in collaboration with a major university as a masters and doctoral internship site. I would completely agree on the need for specifically trained individuals (both mental health and equine specialists) and the importance of an eclectic/learned approach, however, it is my understanding that EFMHA offers only “certification” to equine specialists and not to mental health professionals. When I last spoke directly with NARHA (about a month ago), I was told that there was NO certification through EFMHA for mental health professionals…that mental health professionals simply need to be licensed according to their individual states to conduct psychotherapy (NARHA doesn’t require any certification for them)…. and that although a certification for equine specialists was now available, it was very new and just now graduating it’s first group of certified equine specialists. Of course, a team approach was indicated with a NARHA instructor/certified ES being present. Is this inaccurate information? Does NAHRA/EFMHA offer specific training for mental health professionals conducting equine assisted psychotherapy? If so, could you direct me to more information on this? Thank you.

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    • June 9, 2015 at 11:28 pm

      As part of my PhD work in “Reassessing and Restructuring Public Agencies” I wondered about equine therapy, this was twelve years ago……….I wrote to the Department of Health and Human Services and inquired how certifications were being handled. They said, we are not going to get involved. Physical therapists need to be properly licensed in their state, mental health, or special ed practitioners need to be properly licensed in their state, otherwise, therapeutic horsemanship is not something we intend to address. I wrote back, our program decided to survey every single state, so we did. ONLY one state has ANY real agreement with their medicaid insurers, otherwise it is up to the therapists and physical therapists to oversee treatment for their clients and to collect under their own name and license. MOST states thought equine therapy was FOR horses and referred us to the veterinary boards of their states. WE however, have a Psychiatrist, who is an accelerated learning specialist, special ed teachers, adult education teachers, and real licensed and certified horsement as well as therapists and MFT and veteran and probation managers for youth and adults. At present we are on a two year hiatus and have lent our horses to other programs at the sanctuary where we are keeping them. I thank you for mentioning that the HORSES are often not very well considered in many of these programs. A friend of mine donated her mare, during a divorce and not able to keep her, to a church based equine therapy program, they told her at any time they could no longer keep or use the mare, they would return her. She called hysterical, they had decided the mare was stumbly and were going to sell her at the meat auction. They refused to give her back. I said, whatever, and went and bought her. She is actually how I decided to stop with a PATH certified program where I had been a horse handler (I am a professional horse trainer of thoroughbred race horses and expensive show and rodeo horses) who was volunteering with Downs Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy kids programs. I thought one day as six of us worked with one amazing little girl who would NEVER leave institutional life, that maybe there were a LOT Of people, and kids who needed just a kick start. I talked to friends in MFT and Psychology programs and started in on my own. I did a lot of research. The top equine therapy program in the world was featured on Animal Planet it is the last known Viking family, living on the mountains and plains in the old ways with their horses, just free. THEY CHARGE a fortune, but I learned a lot from their material on that show, and when I asked them for some information for my research. Due to cancer and no mentor who could handle the ADA issues, I did not get my final paper signed off, but my research in the Health and Human Services (which was in large part equine therapy uses) I found many amazing programs and trainers worldwide. One incredible program, again on Animal Planet, helps an incredible 75,000 children in literacy programs at their ranch each year……………..I worked with gang abatement, and probation programs, we took horses and professional riders who volunteered, into the projects in S. Central Los Angeles and brought people to the ranch. It was awesome. I am writing a book about the gang work. I have an inclusion book out “Carousel Horse” which is used to teach kids in many programs about equine therapy, but mostly about other abled persons and how we all have to help each other. I have had horses in my programs grow to their late thirties, one to forty……….we have had real race horses sent to us for lay up and a parade horse that has been in the last few Rose Parades and other big parades left with us while she had her foal. We were able to purchase a barrel racing champion when her owner went to prison. The horse had a broken leg from kicking the bars, she healed and when her past owner came out, she asked to borrow her, and the horse went on to be high point winner for that year in their class and nationwide rodeo circuit. We had a syndicated thoroughbred, a million dollar two year old that slipped and was injured on his final work before his stakes for hopefully going to the Derby. They did not want to care for a horse that would never race again, so my older son paid for his papers, and we brought him home and healed him. He became a stadium jumper, trail horse, and dressage trainee with our riders………….I wrote two more books, they will be out this year, about horses and not just using them like couches, or psychiatry chairs, or physical therapy machines. I absolutely thank you for saying that some people are NOT pleased with these issues going the way they go. One of the programs says, “Horse are a metaphor” NO, horses are wild animals. and big wild animals. I trained horse handlers for licensing at the track. My supervising trainer told us, at EVERY first class, we were to make sure people knew, NEVER trust a horse. Another training certification program starts by saying “no horse experience needed”. THAT is untrue. Monty Roberts has THE best veteran program there is……..he is a famous horse trainer, and he is also a PhD behavior specialist. Pat Parelli, another world class trainer, also has a BA in psychology. One day at an equine therapy horse show, a gentle OLD horse was startled by a trailer going by that a tarp pulled loose and was flapping. The horse was with a rider, doing his routine. That horse blew up. Having worked at the track, I simply slid through the bars, ran up and grabbed the boy’s leg to steady him, and the rein, and got the kid down and the horse calm. Someone has to have that level of horse expertise with ANY child or disabled riders. At the Parelli ranch one summer, where I was getting some certification classes, I heard Pat yell at someone, THE only time in almost thirty years now I have ever heard him yell at someone. He had told a woman to get off the horse. He could tell it was about to explode. SHE had gone to those silly “stay on no matter what, show the horse who is boss” classes………she could have been killed. In over fifty years of training other riders, I started helping in a stable in my early teens, I have had only ONE serious injury to a rider. SHE said she could handle a horse, her MOTHER was there and said, oh yeah, I said I do not think so. SHe ran the horse into a fence and got a broken arm. She still rides, in fact owns her own stables and is in driving competition. Pat has had only ONE serious injury in over forty years of massive clinics. People have to have a master horseman, no matter what. One day two girls put a horse tied to a tree, and gave her a bath at a stable where I kept my horses. the horse got water in her face, blew up, and tore the limb out of the tree, she managed to break the halter somewhere in her rampage and they managed to run her into a stall. But no one could get hear her. I came in and they said, HELP. I went over and the horse was bleeding horribly where some of the buckles and the tree branch had torn her hide. She was screaming and rearing and striking. I have never been a roper, so put a rope over a rake handle and got it around her neck, and took the time it took to get her to calm down. I said to her, OH NO, you are not going to kill me because you hurt yourself. That horse today ties, bathes, and is a good sound trustworthy horse. BUT, it could have been a disaster. I also think that many horsemen, who believe it IS the horses who heal, and help NOT the humans, are not liking the book and test people coming out and telling them a horse is a metaphor. NO, a horse is a wild animal, that heals, and is amazing………….all the little games can not hurt, but a person with a lot of papers, and certifications who has NO real horse experience, is NOT a horseman, and for people to be safe around horses, you need horsemen and horsewomen. I know this is long, but it is something very important to me. We recently had a person who had taken his ten free veteran classes with someone, who came in to the sanctuary to find out if he could volunteer since he felt he needed more. We do offer free programs to veterans. He was talking to the ranch owner, and a horse that did not like people came to the paddock fence and wrapped his head and neck around the man. The man and his wife came to volunteer and are wonderful and helpful to other vets and families. One day he told the ranch owner, he really had come that day to say good bye to the horses, he was going to commit suicide, but that horse hugging him had changed his soul. We all cry even thinking about it. It had nothing to do with humans. ALL of our horses are in forever homes. Our vet said one day…………..after thirty years of our programs………that he always felt happy for a horse that came to us, because it had it made for life. What a great compliment. I wish all equine therapy programs could reach for that goal.

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  • February 28, 2016 at 8:45 am

    Very interested in just4horses comment about the stumbly mare recommended for the meat market. I had some volunteers with our local Path therapeutic riding service who left that facility and refused to volunteer there anymore because of the facility’s policy that once horses reached a certain age they were not longer profitable, and were therefore euthanized automatically. These volunteers were/are truthful nondramatic individuals and I believe them. I also have had several kids from the local Path program who were in other services in the community that brought them to my barn. They had been traumatized at the Path Center, made frightened of the horses because both the training of the equines and handling of post trauma clients seems to not be done in a knowledgeable manner, although they seem very attentive to physical disabilities. I was certified in EAGALA several years ago, and have used horses to reach at risk youth for years in both summer camp and individual programs. A certified mental health professional in VA, I work in the mental health field as an in-home counselor. I have been a professional horseperson for 50 years. The whole issue seems to boil down to individuals being responsible to both their clients and their equines. Common sense ethics in this field need stressed as much as, if not more than, in other fields. The LPC with whom I work closely said yesterday that she liked “Path” because they “raise more money” than anyone else. My question is “But at what cost?”

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  • March 15, 2016 at 10:28 am

    Hello all!
    My name is Channell from Connecticut. I am currently 19 years of age and my dream career is to become an Equine Therapist. My current certifications are only CPR, and customer service.. so yes by reading this I see I clearly have a long way to go. I was wondering if anyone would be so kind as to help give me some insight as to where I should start. Im currently in LPN school to help me out in the meantime and help save for actual vet school as well. But I am just at a lost as to where to start after finishing LPN school. If I go to college where, and what should I take up. I am very nice and respectful so please don’t hesitate to shoot me an email. I thank everyone in advance and thank you for helping me chase my dream!

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  • December 19, 2017 at 10:39 am

    This article has major inaccuracies about the current EAGALA model. The horse and metaphors about the horse are primary in this model – the majority of interaction in the session should be between the horse and the client rather than the client and the therapist/equine specialist, all language used and discussion strives to be reflected in terms of the horses behavior rather than the client’s, and structured activities/exercises are not necessary allowing sessions to be client-lead and experiential. EAGALA utilizes a mental health and equine specialist team to ensure the safety and mental well being of both the horse and the client.

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  • December 12, 2018 at 12:42 pm

    I am a licensed mental health therapist in the state of Iowa and registered art therapist. I have volunteered in Egala based approach EAP, I have taken introductory course in Epona quest. At this time I am looking into certification-learning more about adding EAP to my work with clients. I also volunteer in the EAP program for the veterans and am a witness to amazing work. Horses come to my dreams and are in my heart, I know that even at the age of sixty two that is what I am to be doing. I need clarity in what is my next step, leaning between Eponaquest and Natural lifemanship. I apply EMDR in my practice with clients and could se the benefits of Rhythmic riding.

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