Equine therapy has a long, rich history spanning hundreds of years. More recently, equine therapy has gained wide acceptance as an effective treatment for many conditions, including PTSD and autism. Children with autism, in particular, are extremely responsive to equine therapy, which has been shown to improve bonding, socialization, verbal skills, and confidence.
Perhaps you’ve seen the results of successful equine therapy firsthand and want to get involved in some way. Whether you simply own one horse who you think might make a good therapy animal or you're considering opening your farm or ranch up for therapy classes, there are a few things you need to know before getting started.
Choosing the Right Therapy Horse
First, it’s important to note that not just any horse is acceptable for use in therapy settings. The ideal therapy horse is one that is in good health, with a clean gait and a patient personality. Therapy horses interact with a wide variety of people, so they should be human-oriented, calm, and approachable. Aggressive horses or those that are difficult to train have no place in a therapeutic environment.
Choosing the right horse or horses is imperative to the equine therapy process for several reasons. Therapy patients effectively bond with the horses and must feel comfortable around the animals. Further, a horse that’s not suited for therapy puts riders at risk of injury — and if you’re running a therapy class on your property, you could be liable for any injuries sustained during therapy sessions.
For example, if you allowed an untrained child to ride an upset or untrained horse without supervision, and the child suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result, you might be held liable for gross negligence. Even if your horses are kind and well-trained, you may want to request that therapy riders sign an “assumption of risk” waiver so that you cannot be sued in the event of injury.
Business and Record-Keeping Considerations
Along with waivers, you’ll need to keep plenty of records on hand in equine therapy settings. This paperwork can include horse health records, therapy patient data, and legal forms. Make sure that you understand business record retention best practices. You should know how long to keep documents on hand, how to store them properly, and when it is safe to destroy or discard those documents.
For instance, if a therapy patient is injured during a session, you may need to prove that the individual signed a waiver and that the therapy horse was in good health at the time of the accident. By keeping business records in order and easily accessible, you can quickly access those documents at a moment’s notice.
Benefits of Equine Therapy
If you’re considering entering the realm of equine therapy, you may also want to do your research to better understand the process. Equine therapy is akin to the subset of therapy known as applied behavior analysis (ABA), which focuses on reducing negative behaviors while fostering positive ones. ABA therapy is commonly used in the treatment of individuals on the autism spectrum, and it can be practiced in a variety of settings.
One of those settings is an equestrian facility, where autistic therapy patients can learn positive behaviors while interacting with horses in their natural environment with assistance from their therapist and a horse trainer. While the exact reasons are still not fully understood, individuals with autism often find peace when working with horses. This could be due to the calming rhythm of horses, or the fact that both horses and those with autism are said to think in pictures.
Equine therapy is practiced throughout the world and has numerous benefits. Those who practice equine therapy have shown improvement in many areas, including impulse control, communication, independence, and stress tolerance. It is a rewarding field for every horse lover, but it may not be the right choice for everyone. If your goal is to get involved in equine therapy in some way, learn as much as possible about therapy horse selection, possible legal obligations, and the efficacy of equine therapy before diving in.