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Hi Julie:

We are a not for profit 501 (c) (3) corporation providing free horseback riding to handicapped individuals. We have a certified CHA instructor and a physical therapist who comes out on a monthly basis as a volunteer, and the hospital that he works for has agreed to have their therapy department act as a consultant to our program by reviewing our records. Our question is, can we use the word therapeutic in our brochures and in other PR such as the newspapers without fear of liability? We would appreciate your advice on this. We are a member of CHA.

Heartland Horses & Handicapped, Inc.

Dear Heartland,

You would definitely increase your liability exposure by using the term "therapeutic." That holds you to a greater degree of professional liability. However, the physical therapist and hospital are already exposing themselves to this liability, just by being involved.

To qualify as Equine Physical Therapy (Hippo therapy) the following must occur:

1. The doctor sees and evaluates a patient. S/He then PRESCRIBES certain physical therapy treatments.

2. The doctor and physical therapist meet and discuss modality and set goals.

3. The physical therapist and the riding instructor meet and select a horse and exercises to meet the needs of the rider and the goals.

4. The physical therapist either gives the riding lesson or directly supervises the riding instructor to start with.

5. If the physical therapist leaves the lesson up to the riding instructor, s/he should set a goal and instruct the riding instructor on how to meet it.

6. The riding instructor can then work alone until the goal is met, then the physical therapist comes in and evaluates and sets a new goal and retrains the instructor on how to meet that goal until the doctor's goals are met.

7. The physical therapist reports to the doctor, new goals are set.

Is the purpose of your program to offer therapy or to offer riding to people with disabilities? If not, I would not use the word. That is why we intentionally left the word "therapy" out of our certification program for instructors of riders with disabilities. We do not want the exposure of certifying people to offer therapy; we are certifying them to teach riding to people with disabilities. Only trained and licensed therapists should conduct therapy. There are many important programs out there that offer services to people with disabilities but are not "therapeutic" and they provide an important and valuable service and we want to include them in our program.

Since I am not an attorney, I cannot really address the issue of liability exposure. However, the things I would think about are 1) are you insured for this activity? and 2) is your instructor knowledgeable and qualified to deal with disabilities? If your instructor is already standard certified, she could attend a CHA disabilities clinic and get the disabilities certification as well. I think this would be a good way to reduce your exposure.