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Assessing horses for Equine Assisted Therapies
Hello, I am seeking information regarding assessing horse suitability for Equine assisted therapy. I was wondering if you use any specific format to assess your horses? I am a registered equine therapist and would like to have a format to assess the horses prior to them coming into therapy.
Thank you, Annette.
This is a wonderful question and I hope many people read this as equine assisted programs are becoming increasingly popular throughout the world. I will give you a general response to assessing horses for equine assisted programs. But I need to say one thing first. The ability to assess horses for equine assisted therapies is merely solid, basic horsemanship on the ground with some awareness of basic training principles. A person who wants to do this work needs to know about horses, their minds, basic psychology and basic training. You may have been certified to provide equine assisted therapies, but your training is probably lacking as to solid knowledge and wisdom of horses and how to handle them and provide basics in training is an essential and a important element of being able to provide this therapy in a safe, efficient and effective way. A good part of any training in this work should always include a lot of horsemanship (not riding, but on the ground). What I see is little good horsemanship throughout this entire field, no matter what the specific therapy is for. If you are a registered equine therapist, your training was probably lacking in the basics of giving you good knowledge of horses, how to provide their basic training and safe and appropriate handling methods. If you cannot provide this, how can you expect to facilitate a safe and effective equine assisted session with a client? Get my point? The bandwagon for this is too big with too little solid training in the required and needed basics of the horsemanship required.
Anyway, to assess a horse as suitable for this work, you need to be able to 'read' the animal's temperament, first through observation and then through you handling it yourself. Is it nervous, skittish, afraid, moving about quite a bit and not relaxed? If approached does it move away (even just moving its head away)? Does it allow itself to be touched over most of its body? Does it halter easily or try to get its head away? Does it stand quietly for grooming? Does it allow its feet to be handled for cleaning and trimming? Can you handle its mouth easily? Does it lead well and stay in the correct most desirable position (not lagging behind or pulling the human along by being out in front of the human)? Does it invade the boundary of the human with it (walk into and/or over the human)? Does it have any history of inappropriate behavior (biting, kicking, rearing, striking or any undesirable or dangerous behavior towards with humans or other horses)? It is afraid of simple, everyday things like plastic bags, rain jackets, umbrellas, things flapping near it or loud sudden noises, etc? Does the horse become curious and interested or does it seem uninterested and distracted from what is going on near it? Is the horse responsive to light cues on the ground or is it dull and unresponsive? Does the horse show hyper-claustrophobia (easily made nervous with too many people around it)?
Make as many determinations from these observation as possible. Next is to handle the horse yourself quite a bit. This includes but is not limited to: lungeing with directional and speed transitions, leading (again with directional and speed transitions and from both sides), backing up, ground driving (double long-lines), 'sacking out' (determining fear level from potentially scary objects), 'sending' the horse in and out of tight places (called 'squeezing' the horse), stepping over and through potentially scary things and more.
Unless you can do these basic things yourself, the truth is, you probably do not know enough about horses, despite perhaps having some years riding and loving them and probably should not be attempting to provide equine assisted therapy until you have attained a solid basis for the horsemanship involved. In this case, my suggestions would be to find a good, gentle, professional trainer and learn these basic about horses. If you have had some years riding or being around horses, you should be able to pick up this knowledge and training easily. Riding horses for years does not necessarily give anyone the knowledge of the animal required for this work. Winning ribbons and trophies may show proficiency in equestrian skills, but does not necessarily indicate wisdom of the mind, psychology or basic nature of horses. Many riders immediately go to coercion (force and inducing fear) when resistance from their horses occurs. Resistance is always a symptom of fear and never deserves punishment. It is always a training issue. I think your question shows you know some of what you don't know. This is the first step to acquiring the knowledge of the things you should know. Namely, lots more about horses.
Good luck and thank you for your question. Itís a good one.