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 (talk therapy) that uses horses as instruments for therapeutic healing. This hands-on therapy uses tools, props, and other creative methods that allow a person to reenact 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

This article explains what equine therapy treats, 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:

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

Why Horses?

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

Horses have unique personality traits that may remind a person of aspects of themselves or others in their life. In some cases, clients may feel like they can 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 they are struggling with.

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

What Happens During Equine Therapy?

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 to identify behavior patterns, as well as help process thoughts and emotions.

How to Become an Equine Therapist

There is no specific independent certification that is required 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 seek an optional certification from an organization of professionals specializing 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 to registering 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 its 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.

Therapy with animals is becoming more popular, along with many other alternative forms of psychotherapy, such as 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 unstructured ways. While a horse specialist helps with handling the animal(s), an equine therapist 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 your health insurance plan. If you are considering equine therapy and are enrolled in a plan, speak to your insurance provider 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.

3 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.
  1. White-Lewis S. Equine-assisted therapies using horses as healers: a concept analysisNurs Open. 2019;7(1):58-67. doi:10.1002/nop2.377

  2. Scopa C, Contalbrigo L, Greco A, Lanatà A, Scilingo EP, Baragli P. Emotional transfer in human-horse interaction: new perspectives on equine assisted interventionsAnimals (Basel). 2019;9(12):1030. doi:10.3390/ani9121030

  3. Buck PW, Bean N, De Marco K. Equine-assisted psychotherapy: an emerging trauma-informed intervention. ASW. 2017;18(1):387-402. doi:10.18060/21310

By Blyss Splane
Blyss Splane is a certified operating room nurse working as a freelance content writer and former travel nurse. She works as a freelance content writer for healthcare blogs when she's not spending time with her husband and dog.

Originally written by
Antigone Orfanos
Antigone Arthur is a former writer for Verywell Health who covered career information for therapy professionals.
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