Equine Therapy: NAHRA No More, Now PATH, by Claire Dorotik

The North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, also known as NARHA, originally formed in 1969, is now the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.).

The association tagline is “Ensuring excellence and changing lives through equine-assisted activities and therapies,” and is designed to reconstruct the now outdated NARHA model. Because equine therapy is such an evolving modality, there are now a myriad of ways in which horses can be helpful in the therapeutic realm. Yet NAHRA focuses mainly on programs that are designed for handicapped riders.

However, NARHA is the oldest organization for any form of equine therapy, and therefore creates guidelines for all other equine therapy activities, including those produced solely for mental health benefit. Recognizing the obvious constriction of this setup, the NARHA Board of Directors voted for the name change for several reasons.

Primarily, PATH is a much broader based organization, allowing for regulation of many types of equine therapy, including equine assisted psychotherapy, and learning.

Secondly, the term “handicapped” is no longer considered correct, and those who are restricted to a wheelchair prefer to be referred to as “wheelchair bound.”

Lastly, PATH is now an international organization which welcomes those from other countries also practicing equine therapy. In this way, PATH expands its audience and membership base in a way that includes, as oppose to excludes, foreign equine therapy theoretical orientations and approaches.

In a statement on the new PATH website, the organization states: “This name change will open doors to a myriad of inclusive possibilities and matches the growth of the equine-assisted activities and therapies (EAAT) industry. PATH Intl. vows to continue to provide its membership with an ever-evolving and progressive level of quality. The association promises that the service members receive will be positive, knowledgeable and friendly. The educational opportunities offered will continue to challenge and enlighten.”

Retaining its federally-registered 501(c3) nonprofit status, PATH now includes over 3,500 certified instructors and 800 member centers around the globe. Additionally, more than 6,500 PATH Intl. members help over 42,000 children and adults with physical, mental and emotional challenges find strength and independence through the power of the horse each year. In addition to therapeutic riding, PATH centers offer a number of therapeutic equine-related activities, including hippotherapy, equine-facilitated mental health, driving, interactive vaulting, competition, ground work and stable management. More recently, programs offer services in human growth and development to serve wide-ranging audiences for such educational purposes as leadership training, team building and other human capacity enhancement skills for the workplace and for daily use.

PATH also offers certification and accreditation programs, plus a wide variety of educational resources that includes a national annual conference with hundreds of attendees, the association helps members start and maintain successful EAAT programs. There are more than 30,000 volunteers, 3,500 instructors, 6,300 equines and thousands of contributors from all over the world inspiring and enriching the human spirit at PATH Intl. Centers.

With that being said, the hope is that the name changes will only enhance and promote the growth of equine therapy.

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