What Is an Equine Therapist?

A psychotherapist who uses horse interactions to help patients

Equine-facilitated psychotherapy (EFPT), also known as horse therapy and equine-assisted psychotherapy, is a form of psychotherapy that uses horses as instruments for therapeutic healing. This is hands-on therapy uses tools, props, and other creative methods that allow a person to re-enact and explore past experiences.

Typically, the equine therapist does not offer solutions, but gives a person a safe space to reflect on what they notice and feel during the session.

Young boy laying on horse's back surrounded by three equine therapists.
Tom Ervin / Getty Images

EFPT has been found to be particularly effective for people with autism spectrum disorders, substance use disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is also shown to be helpful for improving relational skills and building confidence.

This article explains what equine therapy is used to treat, as well as what an equine therapist does during a session. It also discusses the training and certification process involved in becoming an equine-assisted psychotherapist.

What Equine Therapists Treat

Equine-facilitated psychotherapy has been found to be useful for treating people with a variety of conditions and/or concerns such as:

  • Autism spectrum disorders, which can cause repetitive behaviors and challenges with communication and interaction skills
  • ADHD, a condition that impacts attention, self-control, and the ability to sit still
  • Substance use disorders
  • Processing past trauma
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder, a mental health condition that can occur after experiencing or witnessing one or multiple scary events
  • Challenges with self-esteem, self-awareness, and decisiveness
  • Trouble with independence and self-agency
  • Adjusting to life after prison
  • Poor relational skills, like connecting with others
  • Depression, a group of conditions that involve low mood, decreased energy, sleep disturbances, and loss of pleasure in activities that used to be enjoyed
  • Anxiety, a group of conditions that may involve feeling wound up or stressed, difficulty focusing, sleep disturbances, and feeling a lack of control or dread

Why Horses?

Horses are prey animals and are very sensitive to their environment. They live in the moment and are able to provide instant feedback to the situation they are experiencing. This makes them a very useful part of the therapeutic team as they are able to reflect a person's emotional experience.

Horses have unique personality traits that may remind a person of parts of themself, or of others in their life. In some cases, clients may feel like they are able to engage in a relationship with a horse that feels safe and free from criticism. In other cases, the horse may embody the person or situation that they are having difficulty with.

In both circumstances, the horse can act as a tool for processing and healing.

Equine therapy may also help clients learn to trust other beings, as well as themselves. This can be especially helpful for individuals processing traumatic experiences.

What Happens During an Equine Therapy Session?

A licensed equine therapist and a horse professional conduct the EFPT session together to help the client work toward their therapeutic goals.

During a typical session, a client may groom, feed, walk, and engage in games or exercises with one or multiple horses. Props may be offered that allow them to process an experience symbolically. For example, a client may set up an obstacle course and observe how the horse interacts with the props.

Both during and after the activity, the equine therapist can observe and interact with the client in order to identify behavior patterns, as well as help process thoughts and emotions.

Training and Certification Requirements

There is no specific independent certification that is required in order to practice EFPT. However, any individual who offers mental health counseling or psychotherapy must be properly credentialed and legally qualified to practice in their state or other jurisdiction.

Some therapists may opt to seek an optional certification from an organization of professionals that specialize in this form of therapy.

The Certification Board for Equine Interaction Professionals (CBEIP) is an independent board that certifies mental health and education professionals through an exam, as well as a review of relevant experience.

The CBEIP is not part of any other certifying organization. There are significant prerequisites in order to register for the examination. The CBEIP does not certify horse specialists or riding instructors.

Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) certifies both mental health professionals as well as horse specialists through their certification program. To become certified, a person must complete an online course, attend an onsite training program, pass an exam, and submit a professional portfolio.

Equine therapy has increased in popularity as a primary and adjunct treatment modality. Therapists may work at horse stables, rehabilitation centers, universities, hospitals, as well as private practices.

Therapy with animals is becoming more popular, along with many other alternative forms of psychotherapy including art therapy and dance/movement therapy.

Summary

Equine-facilitated psychotherapy is an experiential therapy that may be used to treat a variety of conditions and concerns. Some include autism, ADHD, and PTSD.

During a session, clients may interact with one or multiple horses in structured or non-structured ways. While a horse specialist helps with handling the animal(s), an equine therapist helps works with a person to help them process what they are thinking and feeling.

A Word From Verywell

Equine-assisted psychotherapy is an evidence-based practice. This means that research supports how effective it is when it comes to treating symptoms related to trauma and stress.

Still, it may or may not be covered by health insurance. If you are considering equine therapy and are enrolled in a plan, speak to your insurance company about coverage.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is an equine therapist called?

    An equine therapist may also be referred to as an equine-assisted psychotherapist or an equine-facilitated psychotherapist.

  • What are different types of equine therapy?

    Different types of equine therapy include therapeutic horseback riding, hippotherapy, equine-assisted learning, and equine-assisted psychotherapy.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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