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Autism and Horses: Understanding the Terms - December 11, 2009

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Autism and Horses: Understanding the Terms

By: L A Pomeroy
Holistic Horse

Reprinted with the express permission of Holistic Horse as originally published on their website.

Find out why the terms “modality” and “using the horse” are no-no’s with the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association. Sort through the alphabet soup of equine-related therapies.

Equine Assisted Activities (EAA): An umbrella term inclusive of all the various offerings of NARHA centers and all of the equine activities and therapies designed for people with disabilities or diverse needs. This term is accurately used for making global statements about NARHA center activities. For example, a NARHA center that offers therapeutic riding, vaulting and hippotherapy can say that they offer equine assisted activities.

Equine Assisted Learning (EAL): Learner-centered experiential education with horses. EAL programs are not therapy, although the core values are similar to those found in Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. The EAL model helps individuals better understand themselves and others through participating in activities with horses and then discussing feelings, behaviors, and patterns.

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP): Incorporates horses experientially for emotional growth and learning. It is a collaborative effort between a licensed therapist and a horse professional working with clients and horses to address treatment goals.

Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT): Treatment that incorporates equine activities and/or the equine environment. Rehabilitative goals are related to the patient’s needs and the medical professional’s standards of practice.

Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL): Includes equine activities incorporating the experience of equine/human interaction in an environment of learning or self-discovery. EFL promotes personal exploration of feelings and behaviors in an educational format. It is conducted by a NARHA certified instructor, an educator or a therapist. Goals may be related to self-improvement, social interaction and/or education.

Equine Facilitated Mental Health Association (EFMHA): A fast-growing section within NARHA. EFMHA promotes human growth and development by bringing people and equines together in mutually beneficial ways.

Equine Facilitated Mental Health (EFMH): Inclusive of equine assisted activities and therapies with a focus on mental health issues.

Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP): Experiential psychotherapy that involves equines. It may include, but is not limited to, such mutually respectful equine activities as handling, grooming, longeing, riding, driving, and vaulting. EFP is facilitated by a licensed, credentialed, mental health professional, working with an appropriately credentialed equine professional. EFP may also be facilitated by a mental health professional that is also credentialed as an equine professional.

Hippotherapy (HPOT): Physical, occupational or speech therapy treatment strategy that utilizes equine movement. This strategy is used as part of an integrated treatment program to achieve functional outcomes (

Tandem Hippotherapy (T-HPOT): A treatment strategy in which the patient undergoes handling by the therapist or skilled designee who is mounted on the horse behind the patient.

North American Riding for the Handicapped (NARHA): Since 1969 NARHA has provided Equine Assisted Activity and Therapy (EAAT) programs in the United States and Canada through a network of 800 member centers. More than 42,000 individuals, with special needs, benefit from therapeutic riding, hippotherapy, equine facilitated psychotherapy and learning, driving, interactive vaulting and competition. The association ensures its standards are met through an accreditation process for centers and a certification process for instructors. A section of NARHA, EFMHA, provides equine-facilitated psychotherapy for people with psychological issues and mental health needs, including anxiety, depression, and autism.

Therapeutic Riding (TR): Mounted activities including traditional riding disciplines or adaptive riding activities conducted by a NARHA certified instructor. Claims of providing therapy or treatment, or billing for services with a third party may be done only by a licensed/credentialed professional such as a PT, OT, SLP, psychologist, social worker, MD, among others. Laws differ by state. If non-licensed/credentialed personnel claim to be doing therapy or providing treatment, this is often considered fraudulent.

Terms NARHA encourages avoiding:

Hippotherapist/Equine Therapist/Equine Assisted Psychotherapist: These terms (and other similar terms) are never to be used, as there are no such professions, professional education or licensing in North America. An appropriate description would be the therapist first (recognized profession) with the equine assisted therapy following (ie, PT using HPOT, Clinical psychologist doing EFP).

Modality: Within Hippotherapy, the use of the movement of the horse is defined as a tool rather than a modality. Legally, hippotherapy or the use of the movement of the horse is not a modality, and the term modality should not be used. Additionally, the equine is not the tool; the movement and/or the behavior of the horse are the therapeutic tools.

Using the horse/the horse is used: The equine is a sentient being, and participates in EAA by facilitating or assisting in the provision of services. Humane treatment during NARHA activities is quintessential, including respectful language in discussing the equine’s participation.

This Weeks's Featured Organization: Holistic Horse

We thank the Holistic Horse and L.A. Pomeroy for allowing us to reprint this article here.

L.A. Pomeroy has more than two decades’ experience in equestrian sports, from FEI to rodeo, rare breeds and equine zoology, to fine art and history. She grew up in the Catskills near one of North America’s only Przewalski herds, has photographed Chincoteague ponies, and, after graduating summa cum laude from Johnson & Wales University with a degree in Equine Business, worked for USET public relations, later overseeing Equestrian Press for the 1996 Olympic Games, and serving as contributing editor for Mike Plumb’s Horse Journal. She joined the Holistic Horse family in 2007.

In 2008, L.A.’s feature work earned her a USEF Pegasus Awards nomination, American Horse Publications Annual Awards Honorable Mention, and praise from AHP judges for tackling a topic “that needed a story” -- equine breast and ovarian cancer -- published in Holistic Horse.

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