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A residential facility for emotionally disturbed teenagers (physically and sexually abused) has had a regular riding program for sometime and they are CHA certified and follow CHA standards. Now they are converting entirely to an animal assisted mental health program. Can they still follow the CHA recommended ratio of 10 students to one instructor and an assistant?

I'd have to check with EFMHA (Equine Facilitated Mental Health Assn., a branch of NARHA) and EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Assn.) for a firm answer, but I'd say the ratio would depend on what you are doing. If the goal was building self-esteem through riding skills, if the riders and horses were appropriate for a 10-person session, etc., that would seem okay to me. However in a therapy setting, usually there is a single client or a very small group, working with a therapist and an equine professional, and maybe only one horse, depending on the plan for that session.

Teaching horsemanship skills, particularly riding, are not the generally the main objective of equine assisted mental health sessions; the team focuses on the actions and interactions of horses and people, usually through ground work activities that can be done even by a person new to horses. It's more intimate and intense than a riding lesson. People with mental health issues often have a hard time focusing or accurately interpreting what is going on between them and others, or even within themselves. Ten horses and riders would be too much stimulation.

Having said that, there are times, such as a team building session, where larger groups of people are involved. Again, usually there is no riding, but group problem solving activities done on the ground. So, in answer to your question, I guess I don't have an "official answer"! I just like to have as many options as I can for each individual client.

Nancy Marshall
CHA Certified Instructor
EAGALA Certified Instructor