Equine Therapist Occupation

Austistic Boy with Cerebral Palsy Undergoes Horse Therapy COCONUT CREEK, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 19: Eight year-old Michael Dedrick-Dwyer, who has Cerebral Palsy and Autism, takes 30-minute ride on a horse with therapist Rebecca Reubens and volunteer Kimberly Schuman November 19, 2003 in Coconut Creek, Florida. Michael rides at 'Horses and the Handicap' of South Florida to fight his Cerebral Palsy and Autism. Michael is made to ride on his back and stomach to strengthen his diaphragm which will help him speak better. It also helps strengthen his abdominal muscles. Riding a horse helps Michael to focus longer and recognize his surroundings. 'Horses and the Handicap' have served the handicapped with horse therapy for 23 yrs. The stable has 10 horses, 70 students and over 200 volunteers. The ages of the students range from four years-old to 66 years-old. Until he was four years-old, Michael had to use a wheelchair to sit-up. Then his mother discovered 'Horses and the Handicap' and now Michael can ride a horse, hands free.
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Equine therapy is a form of psychotherapy using horses as an instrument for therapeutic healing. A health therapist may use a horse to facilitate emotional growth and healing in a client. Many therapists find equine therapy helpful for assisting clients that are resistant to traditional therapy. Good examples of clients that benefit from equine therapy include at-risk populations.

Studies suggest that many animals, not just horses, provide the population at large with therapeutic benefits. Equine-assisted psychotherapy, also known as EAP, is becoming a more popular form of health therapy along with many other alternative forms of health therapy including art therapy, dance/movement therapy, and massage therapy.

During a typical equine therapy session, clients may interact with horses socially, groom them, feed and walk with horses and engage in games with horses. The goal of therapy is to improve health. Typically a licensed therapist will work along with a horse professional to conduct therapy sessions.

The Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association suggests that the most common uses for EAP include:

  • Attention Deficit Disorder
  • Behavioral Problems
  • Abuse/Abusive Past
  • Depression 
  • Anxiety
  • Communication Disorders
  • Relationship Healing

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 to 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 cope with 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.

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.

How to Become an Equine Therapist

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 are readily available. Training institutions and farms may be another outlet to investigate equine therapy.

The salary data for equine therapy is variable as this may change as the field changes and expands based on evidence that is gathered for the efficacy of equine therapy. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that rehabilitation therapists or psychotherapists that may work with horses earn a median annual salary of $86,380 as of May 2012. Physical therapists may also work with horses to help with physical rehabilitation that patients require.

Job duties for an equine therapist may include job duties similar to a rehabilitation or psychotherapist. A Master's Degree in counseling and licensure as a counselor is probably necessary in 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.

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Article Sources

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012. 19-3039 Psychologists, All Other.
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012. 29-1123. Physical Therapists.
  • Ewing, C.A., MacDonald, P.M., Taylor, M., Bowers M.J. (2007). Equine-Facilitated Learning for Youths With Several Emotional Disorders: a Quantitative and Qualitative Study. Child Youth Care Forum, 36, 59-72.
  • Klontz, B.T., Bivens, A., Leinart, D., Klontz, T. (2007). The Effectiveness of Equine-Assisted Experiential Therapy: Results of an Open Clinical Trial. Society and Animals, 15, 257-267.