In this first post in our FAQ series for people starting out in Equine Therapy we cover some key terminology and clarify what we mean by the terms ‘Equine Therapy’ and ‘Animal Assisted Therapy’.

As noted in our introduction, you will find a quick answer below for those of you who are super busy or prefer to skim, followed by a more in-depth answer for those of you looking for that. If you like this series and find the information helpful, please share it!

The Quick Answer

Equine and Animal Assisted Therapy can mean many things and be described with a multitude of other terms, all of which can make your initial explorations into this field a little overwhelming to say the least! Most people start off referring to this work using the terms ‘Equine Therapy’ or ‘Animal Assisted Therapy’ which is one of the reasons we still use these at Healing Hooves.  These terms do lack clarity though, and can refer to many different ways of working with animals and people, which is one of the reasons for this article!

In some cases, Equine Therapy refers to therapy provided to a horse, such as equine massage. In other cases, it refers to physical or recreational therapy provided to a person with special needs, usually through riding a horse.

Equine Therapy can also refer to incorporating interactions with horses into approaches to help humans heal, learn and grow emotionally, developmentally and relationally. It is this latter definition of Equine Therapy we explore here and both practice and teach at Healing Hooves. The term we use, and feel more accurately describes this aspect of the Equine Therapy field, is Equine Facilitated Wellness. This is also the term adopted by our professional body, Pro EFW.  In the UK and US an equivalent term would be Equine Assisted Services.

To now broaden the field, Equine Therapy is a form of Animal Assisted Therapy or, more correctly, Animal Assisted Intervention, which is an even larger field comprising different forms of interventions, therapies, education approaches and activities with different species of animals including, but not limited to, equines. We make some key distinctions and provide some definitions below.

The Longer Answer

One of the challenges arising out of the great flexibility and recent explosion of programs and resources in this field is the wide variety of terms, and associated acronyms, that have been created. Love them or hate them, we need to use them, so I will define some of the key ones here. I will also aim to identify some of the leading professional bodies, and their acronyms.


Equine Facilitated Wellness (EFW): This is the umbrella term, used mainly in Canada, to describe approaches to human emotional, cognitive and relational wellness, healing, learning and growth that incorporate interactions and relationships with horses into the approach. In the US and the UK the equivalent term to this would be ‘Equine Assisted Services‘.


Equine Therapy: An even broader term that incorporates EFW but can also be used to refer to therapeutic riding and to therapy for the horse, such as equine massage.


Equine Facilitated Mental Health (EFMH): EFW that is facilitated by a certified mental health professional, often with clients with mental health diagnoses and areas of need, following a treatment plan and specific therapeutic goals. Examples could be incorporating horses into a treatment plan for someone struggling with depression, or group programs with horses for survivors of sexual assault or for people struggling with addictions. In each of these cases the facilitator/s should also have experience and training with the specific client population being served, with equines and in EFW.

Equine Facilitated Counselling (EFC): A subset of EFMH, facilitated by a certified counsellor with counselling goals incorporated into the client work. Diagnoses and mental health needs are likely to be less complex. An example could be marriage counselling, supporting a child and his/ her parents through separation anxiety, or a school group for at risk kids with horses built into the treatment plans. Again, the facilitator/s should also have experience and training with the specific client population being served, with equines and in EFW.

‘Counsellor’ and ‘counselling’ are now regulated terms in Alberta, as they are in a number of other Canadian provinces, requiring all who describe themselves as a counsellor to be certified, meet minimum education and training requirements, and hold membership in a recognised regulatory professional body.

Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP)/ Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP): Variations of the above themes which are more popular in the US. The term psychotherapy implies that the service is delivered by a credentialed mental health professional (a psychotherapist) but psychotherapist is not yet a regulated term in all Canadian provinces, so this may not always be the case. As of December 2018, ‘psychotherapist’ became a regulated term in Alberta – more info here.

Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL): EFW that is facilitated within a non mental health context with clients who do not have mental health diagnoses, trauma or high risk factors. Facilitators may be educators, life coaches or corporate coaches, and clients could be working on goals within areas such as life skills, literacy, team building or personal growth. Examples could be a school group (with less complex and non high risk kids) building skills in the areas of understanding body language, boundaries and social skills, a self awareness or personal empowerment group for women, or a corporate team building workshop, all built upon and incorporating experiential activities with horses.

Equine Assisted Learning (EAL): This is essentially the same as EFL, and is a term popular in the US. The US organisation PATH defines EAL as: “an experiential learning approach that promotes the development of life skills for educational, professional and personal goals through equine-assisted activities”.

Therapeutic Riding (TR) or Hippotherapy: Physical rehabilitation, recreation and physical therapy through horseback riding. Clients usually have physical or developmental disabilities. Therapeutic riding (TR) and Hippotherapy do require different qualifications: TR is facilitated by a certified TR instructor, while Hippotherapy must be facilitated by a physiotherapist, or with a TR instructor who is directly facilitating the physiotherapist’s therapy plan and is working under their direct supervision.





‘Equine’ Therapy refers to work with horses, donkeys and mules


Animal Assisted Intervention, Therapy, Education or Activities?


“Animal-assisted interventions (AAI) are goal-oriented and structured interventions that intentionally incorporate animals in health, education, and human service for the purpose of therapeutic gains and improved health and wellness. Animal-assisted therapy (AAT), animal-assisted education (AAE), and animal-assisted activities (AAA) are all forms of animal-assisted interventions. In all these interventions, the animal may be part of a volunteer therapy animal team working under the direction of a professional or an animal that belongs to the professional.


Animal-assisted therapy is a goal-oriented, planned, structured, and documented therapeutic intervention directed by health and human service providers as part of their profession. A wide variety of disciplines may incorporate AAT. Possible practitioners could include physicians, occupational therapists, physical therapists, certified therapeutic recreation specialists, nurses, social workers, speech therapists, or mental health professionals.


Animal-assisted education is a goal-oriented, planned, and structured intervention directed by a general education or special education professional. The focus of the activities is on academic goals, prosocial skills, and cognitive functioning with student progress being both measured and documented.


Animal-assisted activities provide opportunities for motivational, educational, and/or recreational benefits to enhance quality of life. While more informal in nature, these activities are delivered by a specially trained professional, paraprofessional, and/or volunteer, in partnership with an animal that meets specific criteria for suitability.


*The terms AAI, AAT, AAE, and AAA are the preferred industry terms. The term ‘pet therapy’ should be avoided because it is inaccurate and misleading. The term was widely used several decades ago to refer to animal training programs. By contrast, the currently preferred terms imply that the animal is acting as a motivating force to enhance the treatment provided by a well-trained person.”


(From Pet Partners Standards of Practice for Animal-Assisted Activities and Therapy)


Some Key Organisations and Links


The Professional Association for Equine Facilitated Wellness Canada (Pro-EFW): Canadian certifying body for all aspects of EFW. Healing Hooves staff are all certified with Pro-EFW and our training workshops meet the training requirements of this leading national organisation.


The AAT Chapter of the CCPA (Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association): This chapter of the CCPA is currently doing much work to update the scope of practice and minimum standards of practice requirements for CCPA members who wish to practice AAT.  In this initiative they are coordinating with Pro-EFW in the development of some of their materials. CCPA are currently the only national (Canadian)mental health regulatory body to have a chapter focused upon AAT.

One organisation the AAT chapter of the CCPA are working closely with is The American Counselling Association (ACA), who have developed Animal Assisted Therapy in Counselling Competencies which have already been referred to by the courts (in the US) as providing an example of AAT best practices.


Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association (CanTRA): Canadian certifying body for therapeutic riding instructors and programs.


Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH): US certifying body in therapeutic riding and EFW.


Certification Board for Equine Interaction Professionals (CBEIP): A US based certification body that certifies EFW professionals through an exam based process.


Pet Partners: US based organisation providing resources and training in AAT and AAA:


International Institute for Animal Assisted Play Therapy: US based organisation focusing on play therapy incorporating animals:


International Association for Human Animal Interaction Organisation has recently (2018) developed updated definitions which are generally accepted by those practicing and teaching in the AAI field.  You can access their full white paper through this link. 


Another key organisation, particularly if you work/ plan to work with dogs, is Animal-Assisted Intervention International (AAII) who published minimum standards of practice in Animal Assisted Interventions (AAI) which were revised and updated in 2019. (You can access the AAII standards from this link. ) Recent research has indicated that while there is much agreement among professionals that there is need for standards in the AAI field, a majority of those currently practicing AAI are not following the existing standards.  For example, a study published in 2020 surveying 239 AAI professionals worldwide reported that, “A substantial proportion delivered specific types of AAI that were beyond their scope of professional practice. A large proportion of respondent practitioners reported that they do not document or measure their clients’ progress as recommended by the professional standards.” You can access this study through this link.


If you found this article helpful, please share it!


Next Question in the series: Do I need to be a Counsellor to do this work?


What about you? If you have any questions you’d like us to answer in this series, or questions on any of the above material, please use the comments section below!


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