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 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!

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.

Equine Therapy is also a form of Animal Assisted Therapy, which is also a large field comprising different forms of therapy and activities with different species of animals.  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 the key ones here. I will also identify 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.

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.





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

Animal Assisted THERAPY (AAT) or Animal Assisted ACTIVITIES (AAA)?

AAA provides opportunities for motivational, educational, recreational, and/or therapeutic benefits to enhance quality of life. AAA are delivered in a variety of environments by specially trained professionals, paraprofessionals, and/or volunteers, in association with animals that meet specific criteria.”

AAT is a goal-directed intervention in which an animal that meets specific criteria is an integral part of the treatment process. AAT is directed and/or delivered by a health/human service professional with specialized expertise, and within the scope of practice of his/her profession. AAT is designed to promote improvement in human physical, social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning. AAT is provided in a variety of settings and may be group or individual in nature. This process is documented and evaluated.”

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

Some Key Organisations and Links:

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

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.

Animal Assisted Therapy in Counselling (CCPA chapter)

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:

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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