Many people are searching for alternative ways to have meaningful employment while at the same time feel as though they are making the world just a bit better than they found it. Those who are in the horse business have felt the crunch of the economy and are also searching for ways to keep their farms and are turning to equine assisted programs. This is demonstrated in the growth of the number of centers in Indiana from around 10 to close to 50 in the span of 15 years. Indiana is known throughout the nation for being a leader in this field and for having some of the oldest centers in the nation. As more centers spring up and as new people enter the field it can be a precarious time. While there is great excitement about the overall acceptance of horses and the benefits of interaction, there can be the danger of people making poor choices from lack of experience and training. If the work of equine assisted therapy and learning is something you are looking to get into, here are some simple strategies and basic information to help you navigate and get started on the right path.
Types of equine assisted therapy and learning:
There are many different directions one can go in to offer equine assisted services. The first thing to look at is your skill set and education and how can that translate to work with horses. Most horse work falls into 3 catagories: therapy, education and adaptive sporting. Yes this is somewhat of an oversimplification of the broad field but each can be broken into smaller divisions.
The therapy umbrella covers intervention with a therapeutic goal facilitated by a credentialed therapist. Hippotherapy which is facilitated by a speech, occupational or physical therapist. In Hippotherapy the horse is used as a moveable surface and traditionally the clients are not taught riding skills. Theraplay located in Carmel Indiana is a great resource if this is an area of interest. There is mental health work commonly referred to as equine assisted psychotherapy (EFP) though it reaches in to many areas of mental health such as social work, addictions counseling and other mental health interventions. This is traditionally done through ground interaction and is facilitated by a credentialed therapist who holds the appropriate licenses and certification for their state to facilitate the sessions. EAGALA or the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association can be a great resource for training and information in this area. A more grey area is therapeutic recreation which is riding that is adapted for people with special needs and facilitated by someone who is a board certified recreational therapist or licensed as they are required by some states. While the horse interaction and movement is therapeutic, the goals are traditionally skill based including mounted and ground horsemanship. Recreational therapist are a great fit for equine assisted work.They are sometimes placed in a category of education but since the facilitator is certified and/or licensed, they are under therapy for the purposes of this article.
Education or called equine facilitated learning (EFL) is the broadest of the categories. This can include education based interaction that has academic or social-educational goals. It can also include coaching facilitated by a credentialed life, wellness or executive coach. This can also include vocational coaching for people with special needs, corporate training and leadership. Much of the work with veterans through the Wounded Warrior project falls into this category if it is not mental health therapy. EFL also encompasses all areas of traditional education that can be incorporated into the classroom by a credentialed teacher or education specialist. Again this category is very broad and would be hard to list everything that can fit under the umbrella of EFL. Strides to Success in Plainfield Indiana is one of the premiere sites in the nation for equine facilitated learning and can be an excellent source for training and continuing education. For additional training in coaching, take a look at EPONA or Equine Assisted Coaching as a resource. For corporate training there is an organization called E3A which specializes in this type of training. For the EFL component, PATH is a great starting point as well as OK Coral and Equine Guided Education. For a more online approach, Ehorse Education is an alternative to explore EFL with less of a commitment.
In the adaptive sporting area includes therapeutic riding, driving, vaulting, adaptive riding and competition. Therapeutic riding is a specialized form of adaptive riding for people with special needs that is facilitated by someone who has been through a training and certification process either through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) or the CHA Certified Horsemanship Association. Bother offer certification for this type of riding. There are many centers in Indiana that specialize in therapeutic riding and have been through an accreditation process. Agape in Cicero Indiana is a good example. Please refer to the equine assisted directory to locate a center in your area. Vaulting and driving specialized instructors are also certified through PATH and require extra hours of supervised instruction. There are few centers in Indiana who have this as an area of focus. However, many centers offer driving as an alternative for students who are not appropriate for therapeutic riding. If competition is more your speed, there are opportunities for you as well. Some therapeutic riding centers offer lessons that focus on competition for people with special needs such a Special Olympics and the Paralympics. Special Olympics offers some coaching training though a therapeutic riding certification is recommended before training students. For those who wish to compete at the Paralympic level, that require a trainer with a high degree of competition experience as well as specialized training to adapt equipment, style and knowledge or rules and regulations for competition. The Unites States Equestrian Federation has a division for para-equestrians and is a good place to get started if you are a competitive trainer and decide to train students at this level.
Getting started can always be a daunting task but in the end is well worth it. Even if you start by expanding an existing horse based business to include other types of interaction, you create a more diverse and sustainable business. If you have no horse experience what so ever, it is never too late to start. Volunteering for a center and taking riding lessons is a logical first step. Strides to Success also offers several workshop opportunities called Horsework that can help get you started and connect you with mentors near your home. More and more opportunities for training are being formed to make it accessible and cost effective to get the training and education you need to have a safe and high quality practice that can improve the quality of life for all Hoosiers. In the end it always up to you to do your homework and decide what training and specialization fits your needs.