Feeling Grateful

Hello Friends and Colleagues,

It was recently brought to my attention that a letter I wrote in 2008 is still being circulated today.


I had forgotten all about it until I was contacted recently by the Equine-Facilitated Wellness-Canada organization. I feel immensely honored to know that this letter was helpful in supporting the process of “deep learning” about equine-assisted mental health and equine-assisted learning.

Developing competency in this emerging area of practice is essential, both for the safety and wellbeing of the participants, and for that of our equine partners. Hats off to Equine-Facilitated Wellness-Canada for their dedication to the advancement of the equine-assisted mental health and equine-assisted learning industry!


Help Advance Our Knowledge of Equine-Assisted Mental Health and Equine-Assisted Learning

Recently, I posted a link to participate in an Idaho State University research survey aimed at gathering data that will help differentiate between the various models or approaches to equine-assisted mental health and equine-assisted learning.

This data, once collected, analyzed, and published, will help both practitioners and researchers design studies using more clearly defined and operationalized terminology, and have the empirical evidence to develop specific and standardized protocols for each type of intervention.

At present, there is little if any empirical evidence related to the manner in which the various models or approaches to equine-assisted mental health or equine-assisted learning are actually implemented. Most knowledge of this topic is based upon anecdotal experiences and the trainings provided by various organizations or individuals. Due to this, it is impossible to make generalizations as so much of what is “known” is based upon personal opinions, experiences, and unique ways of practicing. This research project marks the beginning of a very important area of study for the industry of equine-assisted activities and therapies.

Our survey asks professionals to choose the model or approach they use when providing either equine-assisted mental health or equine-assisted learning. The participant then answers all the research questions based upon the philosophy, beliefs, and practices of this model or approach. After 15 days of the survey being live, here is some initial data about the prevalence of the use of various models or approach we’ve collected.

  • 35.48% of respondents use an “integrative” approach to either equine-assisted mental health or equine-assisted learning and do not claim any specific model.
  • 25.81% of respondents use the Equine Psychotherapy Institute model of equine-assisted psychotherapy (WAY TO GO MEG KIRBY AND CREW!)
  • 9.68% of respondents use the EAGALA model of equine-assisted psychotherapy or equine-assisted learning
  •  9.68% of respondents identify “other” as their approach to equine-assisted mental health or learning (this includes models not included in this list)
  • 6.45% of respondents use the PATH Intl. Diamond model of equine-facilitated psychotherapy or equine-facilitated learning
  • 6.45% of respondents use the Eponaquest model of equine-facilitated psychotherapy or equine-facilitated learning
  • 3.23% of respondents use the Gestalt Institute of the Rockies model of Gestalt equine psychotherapy
  • 3.23% of respondents use the HEAL model of equine-facilitated psychotherapy or equine-facilitated learning
  • 0% of respondents report using the Adventures in Awareness model of equine-facilitated psychotherapy or equine-facilitated learning, the HERD model of equine-facilitated psychotherapy, or equine-facilitated learning or the Natural Lifemanship model of trauma-informed equine-assisted psychotherapy.

This data tells me our survey isn’t reaching all possible user groups. I am sure there are far more people using some of these (and other) models than this data suggests, and I need YOUR HELP getting the word out there to these various groups and practitioners. Please take this survey yourself if you offer any type of equine-assisted mental health or equine-assisted learning, and forward it to anyone else you know. Lets get some serious data collection going!



New Research Survey

As many of you may know, I published Walking the Way of the Horse: Exploring the Power of the Horse-Human Relationship in 2008 after many years of study and research related to equine-assisted mental health and equine-assisted learning. At that time, the options for understanding the industry were mostly limited to opinion-based materials using anecdotal stories, and the collection of professional experiences through interviews and surveys.

In a recent literature review I conducted for my latest book, I discovered one hundred empirical research studies related to equine-assisted mental health or equine-assisted learning were conducted between 1985 and 2016 that met my specific criteria. Of those studies only twelve were published PRIOR TO 2008. This gives a sense of how limited the data was prior to 2008, and how much more information we have today.

Even with all of these new studies, our understanding of equine-assisted mental health and equine-assisted learning is still in its infancy. The vast majority of current studies seek to “prove” that equine-assisted mental health or equine-assisted learning is effective for a variety of populations. But, most lack essential details about the design of the intervention or service including the demographic information of the providers (licensure type, experience, education), the approach or model used, the activities conducted, and the role of the horse as an agent of change. Furthermore, most current studies do not include research on the mechanisms of change as related to therapeutic outcomes. All of this makes it very difficult to compare results or conclusively suggest efficacy.

A few days ago I signed a new contract with Routledge (the world’s leading academic publisher in the humanities and social sciences) to publish a book that will replace Walking the Way of the Horse with an updated and current text to educate professionals and students about equine-assisted mental health and equine-assisted learning.

As a critical component of the research I will do for this book, I have partnered with Dr. Leslie Stewart of Idaho State University, the primary author of the American Counseling Association’s Animal-Assisted Therapy in Counseling Competencies to conduct an international cross-sectional research survey. Like myself, Dr. Stewart is dedicated to advancing our knowledge related to the practices of equine-assisted mental health and equine-assisted learning through empirical study.

Our survey is designed to gain a detailed understanding of the theoretical foundations of the various models or approaches commonly used when providing equine-assisted mental health or equine-assisted learning. This important survey includes questions related to provider demographics, theoretical foundations, mechanisms of change, the role of the provider and various staff/volunteers, and the role and demographics of the horses who are included in the various models of equine-assisted mental health or equine-assisted learning.

We will distribute the outcomes of this research back to our community both through my next book, and also by publishing the data in a peer-reviewed journal (assuming we are able to collect enough data and our article is accepted). We may also be able to present our findings at industry conferences or other events.

Without your participation in this survey, and others like it, our understanding of this emerging speciality area of practice will continue to be limited to personal opinions and anecdotal stories. Please consider taking the time to help advance our industry by taking this survey! THANK YOU FOR YOUR HELP AND SUPPORT.


Scope of Practice

When including horses and nature in human healthcare, questions frequently arise about scope of practice.

Scope of practice laws define the procedures, processes, and actions a licensed healthcare provider may perform. Scope of practice also explains the limits or extent to which a licensed healthcare provider is allowed to practice. 

In the United States, each state has specific stipulations related to scope of practice, and licensed healthcare professionals are responsible for remaining firmly within their legal boundaries, regardless of whether or not they include horses. If they act outside of their scope, they face legal action and could lose their license.

Bringing a patient to the farm and adding horse, animal, or nature activities to a counseling practice or a physical, occupational, or speech therapy therapy session is considered outside of the traditional scope of practice of most licensed healthcare professionals. This type of unique treatment is typically classified as a speciality area of practice or an emerging treatment technique, tool, or method. To provide any emerging treatment without prior education, training, and supervision is considered acting outside of one’s scope of practice and therefore unethical according the the following professional membership associations:

American Psychological Association Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct 2.01 Boundaries of Competence:

(a) Psychologists provide services, teach, and conduct research with populations and in areas only within the boundaries of their competence, based on their education, training, supervised experience, consultation, study, or professional experience.

(e) In those emerging areas in which generally recognized standards for preparatory training do not yet exist, psychologists nevertheless take reasonable steps to ensure the competence of their work and to protect clients/patients, students, supervisees, research participants, organizational clients, and others from harm.

American Counseling Association Code of Ethics C.2.b. New Specialty Areas of Practice:

Counselors practice in specialty areas new to them only after appropriate education, training, and supervised experience. While developing skills in new specialty areas, counselors take steps to ensure the competence of their work and protect others from possible harm.

American Occupational Therapy Association Code of Ethics, Beneficence: 

Principle 1: Occupational therapy personnel shall demonstrate a concern for the well-being and safety of all recipients of their services.

  1.  Provide occupational therapy services, including education and training, that are within each scope of practitioner’s level of competence and scope of practice.
  2.  Take steps (e.g., continuing education, research, supervision, training) to ensure proficiency, use careful judgement, and weigh potential harm when generally recognized standards do not exist in emerging technology or areas of practice.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Code of Ethics

Principles of Ethics II: Individuals shall honor their responsibility to achieve and maintain the highest level of professional competence and performance.

  1. Individuals who hold the Certificate of Clinical Competence shall engage in only those aspects of the professions that are within the scope of their professional practice and competence, considering their certification status, education, training, and experience.

TO CLARIFY,  scope of practice is typically determined by the educational content provided during a professional’s graduate level course of study, and any different approach, treatment specialization, or treatment tool that falls outside of that course of study requires additional training, education, and supervision. Animal-assisted therapy, equine-assisted therapy, and nature-based therapies generally fall outside of the traditional scope of practice for most mental health professionals, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and physical therapists because content related to including animals and nature in clinical practice is not commonly provided by the educational institutes granting advanced degrees.

Therefore, if licensed professionals wish to offer any of these therapies, they are responsible for obtaining ADDITIONAL training, education, supervision, and experience to a level that would constitute competency.

For Non-Licensed Folks

Non-licensed providers of animal-assisted, equine-assisted, or nature-based activities do not have a scope of practice as their services are not regulated by law. Instead, these providers offer important services that are uniquely different than those offered by licensed healthcare professionals.

In the United States, it is actually illegal for non-licensed individuals to use protected terms and titles proprietary to licensed healthcare professionals, to offer services provided by a licensed healthcare professional, or to duplicate services using a different non-protected title (Glosoff, et. al., 1995; AOTA, 2007; APTA, 2016; Human Services Guide, 2016). These are serious offenses that can lead to legal action.

Understanding scope of practice, and taking the steps necessary to remain within one’s scope of practice, or to stay outside of the scope of practice of licensed healthcare professionals is an important step in legitimizing the inclusion of animals and nature in healthcare.