Inconsistent use of terminology and an over-abundance of terms has caused challenges in both practice and research for those interested in, or studying, equine-assisted activities and equine-assisted therapies. In many cases, terms are changed or adapted from their conventional uses by individuals or organizations who are not familiar with the standard (and sometimes legal) applications or uses of the term.

In order to develop terms that are as relevant as possible to a diverse group of users while still falling within the legal boundaries of correct terminology use,  I have included conventional medical terminology and definitions whenever applicable, and defined these terms as generally and inclusively as possible. Added to these definitions are terms that could be used synonymously as well as additional information to help researchers and providers better understand and correctly utilize the term.

Adaptive Riding: Adaptive riding is a type of equine-assisted activity that is a non-therapy skills-based service in which specially trained instructors teach horseback riding and horsemanship skills to students with disabilities or special needs. This term can be used synonymously with “therapeutic riding”, however, “adaptive riding” is recommended to help further differentiate between therapy and non-therapy services (see the definition of “therapeutic” below).

Animal-Assisted Activities: Animal-assisted activities refers to the non-therapy services that include animals and focus on teaching skills and enhancing quality of life. Although these services are usually provided by speciality trained professionals, paraprofessionals, and/or volunteers working in concert with trained and certified animals, consumers and referring professionals should be aware these services are not regulated by healthcare laws, ethics, competency requirements, or standards of practice in the United States, and thus are not considered a form of “therapy”. This term may be used synonymously with “animal-assisted interactions”.

Animal-Assisted Education: Animal-assisted education is is a type of animal-assisted activity that refers to non-therapy skills-based services in which animals are included as a part of the educational team to help students with academic goals, social skills, and cognitive functioning. These services are typically conducted or supervised by trained educators.

Animal-Assisted Therapy: Animal-assisted therapy broadly refers to including animals in clinical services that are provided by licensed healthcare professionals. Services are regulated by healthcare laws and commonly offered by physicians, occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech therapists, certified therapeutic recreation specialists, nurses, or mental health professionals. The term “animal-assisted interventions” can be used synonymously.

Certificate of Completion: A certificate of completion marks the successful completion of a trade or model-specific training program. These “certificates” are given out at the complication of a professional development workshop or course to indicate the attendee has completed the necessary requirements for the training. A certificate of completion or “certificate program” that is offered through the same organization who provides the education should not be confused with a credential or a certification that is the outcome of a credentialing process.

Coaching: In this context, the term “coaching” refers to non-therapy professional development or life coaching in which a trained and certified coach works with clients to address personal, professional, and career goals.

Counseling: A protected term used to describe the treatment of mental health issues through addressing mental health, wellness, education, and career goals. These services are regulated or sanctioned by healthcare laws and provided only by appropriately licensed (or registered) healthcare professionals.

Credential: Credentialing is a process by which a third party validates the education, experience, qualifications, and competency of a professional. Credentialing requires a separation between the education source (i.e. a college degree program or a trade-specific certificate program) and the credentialing body in order to promote non-biased, ethical evaluation. Credentialing bodies do not provide training or education. Rather, these entities support the broad acquisition of knowledge from diverse sources. Credentialing bodies do not align with or assess for specific methodological knowledge. The outcome of a credentialing process is either a state issued license or an industry-approved certification.

EAGALA Model of Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy: An approach to equine-assisted mental health provided by a licensed mental health professional that is model-specific. Only those who have been certified by the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) and who adhere to the manualized approach may state they practice the EAGALA Model of equine-assisted psychotherapy. It is important to note there are many other ways to provide equine-assisted mental health or equine-assisted psychotherapy that do not follow the EAGALA model.

Education: Systemic instruction that takes place within institutions of education, as in traditional or alternative learning environments such as schools, colleges, or universities. The desired outcome of education is that the student finishes the program with an increased knowledge base that is demonstrated through the tangible application of information (i.e. written or practical exams, or other forms of competency testing). Education differs from “learning” in that learning can happen in any setting and does not require formal assessment.

Emotional Support Animal: This term refers to animals who are pets and are of comfort to individuals with a mental illness. To be designated as such, an “emotional support animal” must be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional specifically to assist a client with a mental illness. The prescription should indicate the type of impairment that substantially limits one or more functions of daily living, thereby making the presence of an animal necessary for the mental health of the client. This term has become grossly misused, leading to industry-wide concern.

Equine-Assisted Activities/Equine-Assisted Therapies or “EAA/EAT”: EAA/EAT services are, at present, organized as either non-therapy “activities” such as adaptive riding or equine-assisted learning, or “therapies” in which the horse is included in physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, or mental health services provided by licensed professionals. Although very common, this term has caused a great deal of confusion as it combines both non-therapy services and therapy services under one umbrella and does not distinguish what type of service is actually being provided. It is recommended that more specific terms are used to describe services, for example, “equine-assisted physical therapy, equine-assisted occupational therapy, equine-assisted speech therapy, equine-assisted mental health, adaptive riding, or equine-assisted learning”.

Equine-Assisted Activities: Equine-assisted activities refers to the non-therapy services that include horses and focus on teaching skills and enhancing quality of life. The most common forms of equine-assisted activities are adaptive (or “therapeutic”) riding and equine-assisted learning which includes life or professional development coaching. Although these services are usually provided by speciality trained professionals, paraprofessionals, and/or volunteers, consumers and referring professionals should be aware these services are not regulated by healthcare laws, ethics, competency requirements, or standards of practice in the United States, and thus are not considered a form of “therapy”. This term may be used synonymously with “equine-assisted interactions”.

Equine-Assisted Counseling: A term generally used to describe the inclusion of horses in regulated mental health services provided by a licensed mental health professional.  In some cases, this term is used to describe a specific type of equine-assisted mental health in which the licensed mental health professional uses practical, skills-based, problem-solving, and present-moment-focused equine and farm-based activities to address treatment goals. In this model, equine-assisted counseling aligns closely with the principles of choice and reality therapies.

Equine-Assisted Coaching: A term used to describe the inclusion of horses in life or professional development coaching. Although these services are usually provided by specially trained and certified professionals, they are clearly not intended as “therapy”, and consumers and referring professionals should consider these services as a replacement for therapy. The terms “equine-assisted learning” or “equine-facilitated learning” may be used synonymously.

Equine-Assisted Learning: Equine-assisted learning (EAL) is a type of equine-assisted activity that broadly refers to non-therapy, skills-based services that focus on teaching life skills, social skills, communication skills, relationship skills, or leadership skills while facilitating personal growth and increased self-awareness through both mounted and non-mounted interactions with horses. Services are provided by educators, riding instructors, or life/professional development coaches. EAL providers may teach horsemanship skills, and even use riding and other mounted activities as a means to foster skills. Providers practice using a variety of approaches or theoretical beliefs. The terms “equine-facilitated learning”, “equine-facilitated experiential learning”, “equine experiential education”, “equine-guided education”, or “equine-assisted coaching” are all used synonymously.

Equine-Assisted Mental Health: A term used to describe any type of mental health service (psychology, counseling, psychotherapy, social work, etc.) that includes horses or the farm milieu. Mental health services are provided by professionals who have graduated from an accredited education program and are allowed by law to include mental health treatment as a part of their scope of practice. These licensed professionals may choose between a variety of different approaches (see below) when providing equine-assisted mental health. The term “equine-assisted mental health” is sometimes used synonymously with “equine-assisted psychotherapy” or “equine-assisted counseling”.

Equine-Assisted Occupational Therapy: This term describes the inclusion of horses in regulated occupational therapy services. Occupational therapy addresses physical, psychological, and cognitive aspects of well-being. Occupational therapy is provided by professionals who have graduated from an accredited occupational therapy education program and are licensed to practice occupational therapy.

Equine-Assisted Physical Therapy: This term describes the inclusion of horses in regulated physical therapy services. Physical therapy uses treatment techniques to promote the ability to move, reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability. Physical therapy is provided by professionals who have graduated from an accredited physical therapy education program and are licensed to practice physical therapy.

Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy: This term is usually used to speak broadly about the inclusion of horses in regulated mental health services provided by a licensed mental health professional. This term is commonly used synonymously with “equine-assisted mental health” and sometimes with “equine-assisted counseling” or “equine-facilitated psychotherapy”. It is worth noting that in some countries, “psychotherapy” denotes a different level of clinical intervention than “counseling”, and thus the term may have a distinctly different meaning.

Equine-Assisted Speech Therapy: This term describes the inclusion of horses in regulated speech, language, or hearing therapy services. Speech-language pathologists treat speech, language, social communication, cognitive-communication, and swallowing disorders. Speech therapy is provided by professionals who have graduated from an accredited speech-language-hearing education program and are licensed to practice speech therapy.

Equine-Assisted Therapy: Equine-assisted therapy broadly refers to any type of therapy or treatment that includes equine interactions, activities, or treatment strategies, and the equine milieu. Services are regulated by healthcare laws and provided by appropriately educated, trained and credentialed (licensed or registered) healthcare professionals. Providers and researchers should indicate which type of professional is incorporating equines by using the following specific terms: Equine-assisted physical therapy, equine-assisted occupational therapy, equine-assisted speech therapy, or equine-assisted mental health. The term “equine-assisted interventions” could also be used to describe the clinical application of including horses in human healthcare.

Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy: A term generally used to describe the inclusion of horses in regulated mental health services provided by a licensed mental health professional. In some cases, this term is used to describe a specific type of equine-assisted mental health, in which the licensed mental health professional views the horse as a sentient co-facilitator. In this model, activities are steeped in mindfulness-based practices and include the creative arts. This approach is depth and insight-oriented, and is usually considered long-term in nature.

Hippotherapy: Refers to how occupational, physical, and speech therapists incorporate equine movement and the farm milieu in a patient’s treatment plan, using clinical reasoning in the purposeful manipulation of equine movement to engage sensory, neuromotor, and cognitive systems to achieve functional outcomes. Researchers and providers should specify the type of therapy provided when using hippotherapy, for example physical, occupational, or speech therapy (as per the American Hippotherapy Association).

Industry: A commercial endeavor that combines similar businesses and embraces both licensed professionals as well as business owners, technicians, paraprofessionals, and support staff. The term “industry” is recommended in place of “field” when discussing equine-assisted activities and equine-assisted therapies, as “field” is more limiting, and typically used to indicate a specific area of professional practice or study.

Interaction: An interaction does not imply clinical intent. Rather, an interaction is simply a “mutual or reciprocal action” (Merriam-Webster) that can occur, in this case, between humans and animals. The term “intervention” is typically used in place of “interaction” if clinical intent is present.

Intervention: An action or treatment intended to alter or effect the course of a pathologic (either physical or mental) process (i.e. “a treatment intervention”).

Learning: The process of gaining knowledge or skills, synthesizing information, or altering behaviors. Learning is not limited to academic (or educational) settings and can occur anywhere. It also can be differentiated from education as it does not require a formal assessment process.

Licensed: The term ‘licensed’ indicates a professional has met the credentialing requirements (including education, experience, and knowledge) necessary to provide a regulated healthcare service. Licensing is managed by individual states, and each state may require a different credentialing process. Only people who have the state-mandated education and experience, have passed a national exam, and applied for, and been granted a state license are allowed by law to use the term “licensed”.

Mental Health: This term describes emotional, psychological, and social well-being, the disorders, illnesses, or conditions that impact these aspects of human function, and how people think, feel, and act. By law, the treatment of mental health conditions or mental illness is only conducted by licensed professionals whose scope of practice includes mental health treatment.

Patient: A person receiving medical treatment. This term is used in place of “client” to help further differentiate equine-assisted therapy from non-therapy approaches like life or professional development coaching, riding lessons, or experiential learning services in which a participant may be called a “client”.

Regulated: This term refers to state mandated laws set in place to regulate or govern a healthcare practice. Most common types of state regulation include professional licensure, scope of practice, term and title protection, or specific types of certifications required by the state. Any healthcare provider who offers a regulated service must adhere to specific state and federal laws and standards of practice. Examples of healthcare services that are regulated in all 50 states include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, counseling, social work, and psychology.

Service Animals: Service animals are individually-trained to perform specific tasks or functions for people with disabilities. Common examples include guide dogs/miniature horses for the blind, hearing assistance dogs for people who are deaf, medical alert dogs for people with seizure disorders or other medical conditions, and mobility assistance dogs/miniature horses. These animals are highly trained and in many cases, provide a vital, life saving service for their human companions. The term “service animal” may be used synonymously with “assistance animals”.

Scope of Practice: The procedures, processes, and actions a licensed healthcare provider is permitted to undertake by law in keeping with the terms of their professional license. Individuals who are not licensed healthcare professionals do not have a “scope of practice”. Instead, by law, these non-licensed individuals must provide services that are distinctly different than those which fall within the scope of practice of any type of licensed healthcare provider.

Specialty Area of Practice: An advanced or additional level of practice beyond the typical scope of knowledge included in a licensed professional’s education and training. Licensed professionals are required to obtain additional training, education, and supervision prior to adding a new speciality area of practice (i.e. equine-assisted mental health, equine-assisted physical therapy, equine-assisted occupational therapy, equine-assisted speech therapy).

Therapeutic: According to Merriam-Webster, this term is defined as “1. relating to the treatment of disease or disorders by remedial agents or methods; 2. having a beneficial effect on the body or mind; or 3. producing a useful or favorable result or effect.” Although “therapeutic” can be used correctly to describe any activity that has a beneficial effect as per this definition, the use of this term causes much confusion in the equine-assisted activities and equine-assisted therapies industry. Avoiding the use of this term to describe non-therapy services is recommended to help the public better understand the important differences between regulated therapy services and non-therapy services.

Therapy: Defined by Merriam-Webster as “therapeutic treatment especially of bodily, mental, or behavioral disorder”, this protected term is used to describe the treatment of physical or mental illnesses, disorders or diseases that are regulated or sanctioned by healthcare laws and provided only by credentialed (licensed or registered) healthcare professionals. By law, it is not permitted to use this term to describe any non-therapy services (like “adaptive riding” or “therapeutic riding” or “equine-assisted learning”).

Treatment: Medical (or mental health) care administered to a patient for an illness or injury and provided by licensed healthcare professionals. The term “treatment” is a protected term used by licensed healthcare professionals. By law, it is not permitted to use this term to describe any non-therapy services (like “adaptive riding” or “therapeutic riding” or “equine-assisted learning”).