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Horse Help Center

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How to begin with equine assisted therapy


Hello Franklin,

I live in New York and rescued a foal who is now 2 and 1/2 years old. She is a sweet horse, learning ground manners and I am a psychologist. I would like to work with my horse and children to help kids with emotional issues., i.e. autism (I have worked with autistic children long ago; depressed children, and such.) Where would you recommend I begin with my horse?

Thank you so much for your inspiration, Robin

P.S. My foal was born with a lame, twisted foot, rescued from a slaughter truck but now is doing well

Hello Robin,

Sounds like you have already had sufficient skills and experience to work with the children and to do effective ground handling with horses. To put the two together is not complicated and you do not need certifications, etc. Simply invite a neighbor with a child over and teach the child the basic ground skills of leading the horse forward, stopping, turning and backing-up. A child, whether challenged or not, who is able to make basic requests of a horse, receive effort by the horse, reward the horse (stop asking and allow a few moments of peace) and then ask for something more, has become the good leader for the horse. More advanced exercises could be lungeing, lungeing over a low jump, lungeing in, through and around tight places, ground driving (double long lines), loading into a trailer via sending the horse in rather than leading it in, training a horse to walk over a big blue tarp and/or to step up on a pedestal, liberty training (round pen play where the horse hooks on to the human and simply sticks with the human and goes where the human goes. This can be expanded into larger areas once the basic connection is formed. Teaching the child to set and keep boundaries with the horse can be very impactful and good for both horse and human. The rest is limited only by your level of experience and creativity. Remember that less is more with horses and often with children as well. Practice these skills with your horse and then with a friendís child first until you feel confident and secure in your abilities to provide good and safe experiences with the horse.

Your biggest responsibility is to keep the child safe by being able to read the horse well enough to spot a problem before it become a problem. You need to be able to step in and change something that is not working. You do not want to hover over the action as that can stifle the magic between horse and child. You need to be able to know when it is OK to step back a bit or to come forward a bit to assist. There are organizations that will try to sell you expensive certifications to do this work. You do not need them. You can simply begin on your own. You can even begin to set up your own equine assisted therapy practice with the qualifications you already have. Good Luck and please keep me posted.

Sincerely, Franklin

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