Recently, a member of the Equine Facilitated Mental Health Association (EFMHA), www.narha.org, posed an important question. New to the field of equine therapy, and only just beginning to amass an understanding of the practice, this horse enthusiast was wondering which of the many certifications now available in the horse healing world would be best.
The question is worth pondering for sure as with the recent growth of equine therapy, new certifications have emerged. Probably the most popular is the Equine Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA), www.eagala.org. With a very behavioral approach, and several practiced exercises to be performed with the horse, EAGALA gives the equine practitioner a clear method, goal, and theory. While the relationship with the horse is always occurring within the EAGALA sessions, it is secondary to the attempt and completion of the exercise with the horse. What is interpreted is just how the client approaches the exercise, the outcome of this approach, and how to alter it to influence a different outcome. Certainly some professionals have appreciated EAGALA’s methods, yet others have criticized the apparent disregard for the horse. This criticism has extended beyond the importance of the development of a relationship with the horse for both the client and the horse, but also to the overall welfare of the horse as some of the exercises challenge the horse’s inherent nature.
On the other side of the coin, the EPONA (www.taoofequus.com) method, developed by Linda Kohanov, does pay close attention to the relationship with the horse and the ways in which congruence or incongruence in people affects this relationship. As Kohanov has accumulated a healthy following, she has not been without criticism either. Her methods have at times been called “overly vague” and “unclear,” perhaps without recognition that relationships themselves are also often difficult to understand.
However, as both of these methods have value in the world of equine therapy, they also both do not provide the understanding necessary to work with clients that may be drawn to equine therapy as a result of physical disability. Certainly, these clients may also have psychological challenges, yet without knowing how to address the physical aspects of the person within the equine therapy setting, the equine practitioner is at a loss.
This is one of the proponents behind the merge of EFMHA and the North American Handicapped Riding Association (NAHRA), www.narha.org. As founding figures within EFMHA realized, the blurring of physical and psychological factors leaves the professional with only a certification as an equine mental health specialist, lacking. That being said, however, the equine mental health practitioner certification offered by EFMHA does not require a NARHA certification as a prerequisite. While there was plenty of support for this adjustment in certification procedures, the measure was not passed.
Yet in considering the best certification available to the professional interested in practicing equine therapy, it seems that a primary certification from NARHA with a secondary certification from EFMHA would be the best approach. A blend between the approaches of EAGALA and EPONA, EFMHA promotes the consideration of the horse as a sentient being, and the relationship that develops between the horse and the client as a primary focus while providing the professional with a clear method for which to perform equine therapy. With both a NARHA certification and one from EFMHA, the professional has both the understanding and skills to handle any physical challenges the client may present with as well as a solid knowledge of equine facilitated psychotherapy with which to address the client’s psychological condition.
Claire Dorotik LMFT