What Is an Equine Therapist?

An autistic boy with cerebral palsy undergoing horse therapy

Tom Ervin / Getty Images

Equine-facilitated psychotherapy (EFPT), also known as horse therapy and equine-assisted psychotherapy, is a form of psychotherapy that uses horses as an instrument for therapeutic healing. EFPT has been found to be particularly effective for people with autism spectrum disorders, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as other behavioral and communication problems.

Concentrations

Equine-facilitated psychotherapy has been found useful for treating people with:

  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Attention deficit disorder
  • Behavioral problems
  • Traumatic and/or abusive pasts
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Depression 
  • Anxiety
  • Communication Disorders
  • Problems forming and maintaining relationships

Some suggest that equine therapy works much like cognitive-behavioral therapy. The therapist uses the horse's movements and behaviors, and the client's interpretations of those movements as a mechanism to monitor, explain and change negative patterns of thinking that may result in communication difficulties, relationship problems or an otherwise unhealthy lifestyle. In CBT therapy, a similar model is used to transform negative thought patterns into positive ones.

Horses have been found to provide tremendous and instantaneous feedback, so they have become very useful as a vehicle for healing and therapy. Much like dogs are very social and accepting animals, many therapists and clients find horses demonstrate the same personality traits, allowing clients to engage in relationships that feel safe and free from criticism. This makes clients more eager to consider a relationship without fear of rejection, abandonment or criticism, something that a client may otherwise have to face in a traditional relationship.

Equine therapy also helps many patients learn to trust. This can be helpful for individuals struggling with trauma issues, or clients that have dealt with trauma in the past. This can make developing trust challenging.

Procedural Expertise

During a typical equine therapy session, a client may groom a horse, feed it, walk with it and engage in games with horses. A licensed therapist will work along with a horse professional to conduct therapy sessions.

Both during the activity and after the patient has finished working with the horse, the equine therapist can observe and interact with the patient in order to identify behavior patterns and process thoughts and emotions.

Training and Certification

There is no specific independent certification that is required in order to practice EAPT. However, individuals who offer mental health therapy or psychotherapy (with or without equines) must be properly credentialed and legally qualified to practice in their state or other jurisdiction. Only properly credentialed therapists can call their services Equine-Facilitated (or Assisted) Psychotherapy.

 The Certification Board for Equine Interaction Professionals (www.cbeip.org) is the only independent board certifying EFPL practitioners, which they do through “competency-based” testing. The CBEIP is independent in that the board is not part of any other certifying organization (i.e. they do not market EFPL training themselves). The computerized tests are designed for either therapist in mental health (MH) or education professionals (ED). Both categories have significant prerequisites in order to register for the examination. This Board does not certify horse specialists or riding instructors — they only certify the mental health providers and educators conducting EFPL

Equine therapy is a form of rehabilitation therapy. It is somewhat new and is considered to be a growing and expanding field. Employment opportunities may exist at horse stables, at horse tracks and training areas and at universities where access to horses and stables is readily available. Training institutions and farms may be another outlet to investigate equine therapy.

Job duties for an equine therapist may include job duties similar to rehabilitation or psychotherapist. A Master's Degree in counseling and licensure as a counselor is probably necessary for the state you plan to work in if you plan to practice as a licensed counselor. The National Center for Equine Facilitated Therapy provides more information for individuals interested in careers in equine therapy or for clients interested in therapy.

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

A Word From Verywell

Is there evidence to support equine-based therapy? Typically, doctors and therapists rely on what is called evidence-based practice before putting something into motion "officially." If you plan to practice equine-based therapy, know the American Psychological Association refers to equine therapy as an evidence-based practice. The scientific evidence supporting horse therapy suggests benefits, although the evidence provided may be anecdotal.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

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