Training a horse for therapy work

By January 26, 2013July 15th, 2014Equine Assisted Therapy, horse training, horse-human bond

Preparing a horse for Equine Assisted Therapy sessions is not as easy as one may first think.  Many people assume that because they have done some ‘natural horsemanship’ training with their horse that they are now able to offer their horse to the general public for therapy programs.

In actual fact I find the more specific specialised training the horse receives to prepare for Equine Guided Therapy and Learning, the more the horse is able to offer as far as quality and depth of information received to share with the client.

Having been in this field for many years, I have come across many programs that have horses and people with extremely limited knowledge or actual experience in understanding and interpreting the very subtle language of the horse.  This atmosphere creates an environment where horses are forced to perform activities that make little or no sense to them and in the process jeopardizing their mental and emotional well being.  A common example of this is the use of  many ‘retired’ horses doing this work because at least most of the time they can be relied upon to be safe with strangers.

The focus on gauging the success of a session relies heavily on the person’s behavior and responses to determine its effectiveness.  The response from the horse is largely not taken into account.  For me this common model very puzzling.  These beautiful beings are so finely tuned to notice and act on the tiniest of hint of danger in their environment I often find myself questioning how forcing a horse to do unnatural ‘human’ based interactive activities can be respectful and ‘real’ for both or and human.

What I teach people interested in preparing their horse for this type of work is based on the following core principles:

  • Giving the horse confidence to express himself safely with people
  • Fully acknowledging the horse and what is best for him
  • Keeping the horse mentally and emotionally safe in the session
  • The horse always has the ability to choose whether or not to participate in the session
  • Ensuring the horse receives always something positive from each experience
  • Having fun
  • Encouraging the horse to think for himself
  • How to read and interpret the synergy between horse and human
  • Deeply understanding each horse and its nuances of body language, equine behavior and herd dynamics
  • Understanding the difference between projection of humanistic traits and emotions and actual horse behavior in interpreting what the horse is doing in a session