The Quick Answer

Most certification bodies in the Equine and Animal Assisted Therapy fields have an internship requirement and I am approached by far more people who would like to volunteer at Healing Hooves than I can find work for. So, is it the old, ‘I need the experience to be certified, but I need to be certified to get someone to hire me?’
It doesn’t have to be.
Some ideas for getting work experience in Equine and/ or Animal Assisted Therapy include:
Programs that offer school groups often look for volunteers who have some training in EFW
  • Ask your EFW/ AAT trainer; they may have opportunities within their program and/ or have past graduates who are looking for volunteers or staff within their programs.
  • Once you are part way through your training you may be able to volunteer as an assistant on a training you have already completed.
  • Some programs (including EFW Canada) allow certification candidates to gain some of their internship hours facilitating practice sessions with each other.
  • If you have a client base, horses, facility, insurance and adequate supervision you can start working with ‘real’ clients during your internship, and be paid for this work.
  • Join a social media group for people practicing EFW and offer your services.
  • Make sure that all of the above is completed with both insurance and supervision in place!

The Longer Answer

Internship Requirements and Options

Most certifying bodies require you to meet a minimum hours requirement in your pre-existing field for your area of certification (for example, equine experience) plus an internship requirement where you need to gain some EFW practice hours, usually while working under the supervision of a certified EFW mentor.
For example, regarding the internship requirement, EFW Canada require you to have 85 hours of experience working with clients plus 10 hours of supervision with an EFW Canada mentor. 15 of the 85 internship hours and 2 of the 10 supervision hours need to be completed before you attend your final training week (the Integration Training).
The 85 internship hours can be met in several ways.
While a minimum of 5o of the 85 internship hours need to be with clients (paid or unpaid, group or individual) up to 20 hours can be gained assisting a trainer at a training that you have already attended and up to 15 can be gained in ‘practice sessions’ with another EFW certification candidate. The additional benefit of this latter option is that the person in the ‘client role’ is gaining personal growth hours (also an EFW Canada requirement) while the other person gains internship hours. That way both people benefit at minimum cost.
The 50 + hours you need working with clients can also be attained in several ways.

Start or Extend you own Practice

If you have an existing counselling, equine and/ or education based practice you may well feel ready to extend this to start to incorporate some EFW services after your first or second week of Focus training. I recommend starting slowly, getting lots of supervision, and staying within your comfort level and scope of practice.

Volunteer with an Existing Program

If the above option does not apply to you there are opportunities to volunteer with existing programs, especially those who do group work. While we have less of these opportunities at Healing Hooves now we do less group work, we do still have some opportunities. We usually offer these opportunities to people who have completed the exploration training and both weeks of Focus Training.
Other programs I frequently recommend include Whispering Equine and Dreamcatcher Nature Assisted Therapy. If you gain your experience this way it may also include some free training and supervision.
Remember that for these hours to count towards your EFW Canada internship requirement the program approach needs to be in line with EFW Canada standards and philosophies, particularly with regards to safety, ethics and the role of the horse, and you need to be working under the supervision of a certified EFW Canada mentor. This does not mean your mentor has to be with you during all your client sessions, but you do need to be discussing your work, including case consults, with your mentor. This can be phone supervision.

Finding Work Experience Opportunities

Networking is usually the best way to find opportunities. EFW Canada has a facebook page where opportunities are sometimes shared, and Healing Hooves has a facebook group for trainees and graduates which is also a place to make these sorts of connections. Many people also make these connections and create opportunities during training workshops.
In general, I recommend that while you are unlikely to be paid to gain experience with someone else’s program, unless you are receiving a service (such as riding or horsemanship lessons or some other skills development) you do not pay someone to allow you to work for them. And yes, there are programs that will ask you to do this. Working internships are great. Paying for an internship – unless you are also receiving training – I suggest against.
Pre Existing Areas of Experience
As noted above, most certifying bodies, including EFW Canada, also ask that you show a minimum number of hours, credentials and skills in your ‘pre-existing area’. This refers to the credentials and experience you already have before starting to train in the specialised area of EFW. This would be your equine skills and credentials if you are certifying as an equine professional, and your human service skills and credentials if you are certifying as a mental health or EFL professional. I will likely develop another blog in the future to address this area in more detail, but for now will provide some quick suggestions for increasing these hours if you are short. This can be done at the same time as working upon your core EFW training.
Some Ideas for Gaining Equine Hours
  • Volunteering at a therapeutic riding program
  • Volunteering at a horse rescue program
  • Taking riding and/ or horsemanship lessons with a certified equine professional
  • Attend pony club/ 4H sessions/ riding lessons with your child
  • Attending or auditing horsemanship clinics
  • Volunteering at a horse camp
Some ideas for gaining human services hours
  • Volunteering on a crisis help line
  • Taking a college or high school level communications course
  • Volunteering at a summer camp program
Note: If you are unsure of any of the terminology or acronyms we used above please refer to our earlier blog post where we defined and reviewed these terms for you.

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This is our final article in this series. If you have other questions you would like us to answer please post them here.

What about you? If you have any questions or suggestions about how and where to get experience in the Equine and Animal Assisted Therapy fields please share them in the comments below. We would love to hear from you!

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