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I have had a couple of ladies approach me about starting a program to educate and certify individuals interested in conducting equine assisted therapy programs. One of these ladies is a psychologist, the other a respiratory therapist. They believe this should be a university program. I am guessing that CHA may have been or is involved in, or has members who may be involved in equine assisted therapy programs. Do you know of any certification programs for interested parties? Do you have any words of advice regarding the establishment of such a program? Any advice is welcome.


Yes, there are many CHA members involved with equine assisted therapy programs, both in the field of mental health and physical disabilities. CHA's certification program, Instructors of Riders with Disabilities (IRD), offers certification for individuals working in this field with either cognitive (mental health) or physical disabilities, or both.

The IRD program has the fundamental philosophy that riding instructors in this field should be qualified to offer safe and effective horsemanship, not therapy, to individuals with disabilities. Any therapy services offered should be supervised by a professional therapist who is qualified and certified in the given field. Thus, equine assisted therapy involves two professionals: an equine professional and a therapist.

Equine assisted mental health programs are becoming very popular and are springing up every where and certification and training is sorely needed. The possibilities with these types of programs are limitless, whether you are dealing with at-risk youth, leadership training, victims of abuse or violent crimes or people dealing with psychological issues.

As a new and growing field there are also new and growing organizations and certification programs springing up to deal with this field. The North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA, www.narha.org) has a branch known as Equine Facilitated Mental Health Association (EFMHA) which is dedicated solely to these types of programs. At this time they do not offer a certification program but they are working toward that goal. There are some other newer, less established organizations too, but in my opinion CHA and EFMHA are the leaders in the field.

Any riding program involving individuals with special needs has a higher liability than other riding programs. Educating and certifying individuals to work in this field also carries a certain amount of liability. Written Risk Management Standards and General Program Standards must be developed before accepting students. CHA is recognized in our judicial system as the standard setting organization in horsemanship, and NARHA is recognized as the standard setting organization in any equine assisted program for riders with disabilities.

As you embark on this endeavor, make sure that you have qualified and certified horse professionals, as well as qualified, certified therapists. Insurance is often the sticking point in establishing any therapeutic program, however, CHA IRD certified instructors can get insurance through Equisure. Good luck!