Over the past decade there has been a significant increase of interest and activity within the field of Equine Facilitated/Assisted Learning; Equine Facilitated/Assisted Therapy, and Equine Facilitated/Assisted Psychotherapy, both here in the UK and worldwide.
Referred to via a range of other terms including Equine Assisted Learning/Therapy, or Equine Guided Learning/Therapy, as well as numerous acronyms including EFL; EFP; EAP; EAL; EAT, this ever popular, newly emerging form of personal development and therapy is a fast growing modality.
In addition, there are a confusing number of organisations offering certified practitioner training in this work here in the UK, Europe, America and elsewhere in the world. Further confusingly, people can train abroad somewhere like America and then practise here in the UK.
The most well-established and recognized training organisations are:
1) EPONAQUEST (formerly known as EPONA) – American based but now offering trainings and CPD in the rest of the world including the UK/Europe
2) EAGALA – American based but has a UK Network and offers training and CPD in the UK
3) LEAP – UK based
4) IFEAL – UK based
5) EAQ – UK based
6) EAHAE – European including a UK base
7) HEAL - American based
8) Ariana Strozzi – American based
9) Kathy Pike - American based
Plus there are a number of other individuals who also offer practitioner training here in the UK.
Like any newly emerging treatment or approach it has attracted both genuine healers, therapists and educators, and those well-meaning but inadequately trained or self-aware individuals who see it as the latest bandwagon to jump on board.
Equine facilitated personal growth/therapy/psychotherapy/ leadership is extremely powerful and, in my experience, has no overlap with other equestrian activities or horsemanship, natural or otherwise.
Instead, it is a unique methodology and requires a unique set of dual-skills to be delivered well and safely.
Horses see underlying incongruities and expose vulnerabilities within people often in minutes that may otherwise remain hidden or take months or even years in talk-based therapy to uncover.
It is for this fact alone: the "x-ray vision of the horse" involved in this process, that it is essential for the facilitator/s to be expertly trained, supervised, insured and supported when partnering with horses.
Horses cannot distinguish between the facilitator's and the client’s feelings. It is therefore essential that the facilitator/s has an enhanced level of self-awareness and personal boundaries, in order to safely guide the session and support first and foremost the client and also ensure the horse's well-being at all times.
It can happen that a client’s emotional and psychological wounds can suddenly be exposed after years of protection through behaviours and coping mechanisms, and can leave people exceptionally vulnerable and in need of real professional support and help.
This form of work IS psychologically and emotionally therapeutic. Therefore I advise that you approach choosing a practitioner in the same way you would a counsellor, therapist or life-coach.
A Guide to choosing a practitioner for the provision of Equine Facilitated Learning/Coaching, or Equine Facilitated Therapy/ Psychotherapy:-
1. Check that the practitioner has trained in either EFL/EFP/EFT with one of the above listed training providers. This should be clearly and obviously listed on their bio on their website and/or through the use of logos.
This is a highly specialised profession and requires specific, additional training in either EFL or EFT/EFP.
Important Note: People who are trained in Horse Whispering, Native American Horsemanship, Natural Horsemanship, Traditional Horsemanship, horse training; have BHS qualifications, or who seemingly have a vast number of years in the equine world, DOES NOT MAKE THEM SUITABLE OR QUALIFIED to deliver this form of personal or professional development or therapy.
It is crucial that they have undergone a formal training with one of the recognised bodies listed above, otherwise they are not adequately or safely trained and are also not likely to be supported or supervised in any way.
Check the training credentials of those coming from therapy or mental health fields; and the holistic therapies field such as NLP, hypnotherapy, Reiki, spiritual healing, animal healing and communication and similar, to make sure that they have also undertaken specific training in EFL, EFT or EFP to partner with horses.
To reiterate: bringing a horse into the EFL/EFT/EFP “therapy room” brings an added dimension that even a trained, non-equine therapist can be unprepared for.
2. Check that the practitioner has insurance: ask to see their certificate, this should be displayed anyway on their premises but you always ask to see a copy whilst deciding whether to employ them or not.
3. Those trained by one of the larger training bodies (EPONAQUEST, EAGALA, EAHAE or EAQ) have a Code of Ethics to abide with; ask to see the code of ethics that they adhere to.
4. If they are offering equine facilitated therapy or psychotherapy, you may wish to ask whether they have regular supervision.
5. Check what ongoing CPD (Continuing Professional Development) they undertake and how often, e.g. annual conferences, annual refresher training, other training in this field, etc.
6. Check what Professional Forums or Networks they belong to, e.g. Equine Assisted & Facilitated Practitioners Network (EAFPN) in the UK, or PATH International in America, or Horses in Education and Therapy International (HETI).
© Angela Dunning, June 2015
More information on all of these issues can be found in Part II of my book: The Horse Leads the Way: Honoring the True Role of the Horse in Equine Facilitated Pactice, availabel to buy from me or Amazon.
Interested in potentially training in this field? You might want to also read this: