Those of us who own or who have been around horses are very much aware of their impact on our lives. If we didn’t some of us wouldn’t do what it takes to own one and that is saying something. Horses embody a certain sense of freedom and power that some envy and others borrow when they sit atop their mount. This relationship that is so healing for the soul is used for therapeutic purposes right here in Indiana on a larger than thought scale. In Indiana alone there are over 40 programs participating in equine assisted activities ranging from recreation riding for the disabled, school programs, psychotherapy and other equine based programming. The general term of equine assisted activities can include an alphabet soup of acronyms to describe activities supported by a horse.
Beginning with two basic distinctions there are therapeutic interventions and activities with therapeutic benefits. If the experience is facilitated by an occupational therapist or physical therapist it is generally called Hipotherapy. In this modality the horse is described as a movable surface in which the therapist can use the horses movement to affect the human body to achieve a therapeutic goal. The client is not being taught how to ride the horse but rather is benefited by their movement and contact. If the experience is facilitated by a licensed or credentialed counseling professional it falls under the mental health category and then further broken down into several titles including equine assisted psychotherapy or equine facilitated mental health or Equine Assisted Growth and Learning. If you are engaged in an experience with a NARHA [national accrediting body for therapeutic riding] certified instructor you fall under the therapeutic riding category. Therapeutic Riding is defined by NARHA as Mounted activities including traditional riding disciplines or adaptive riding activities conducted by a NARHA certified instructor. Most school based programs for children with disabilities and riding for the disabled are included in this category.
Really it all boils down to who is facilitating the experience and what the goal is. The term therapeutic is just describes the therapeutic benefits of interacting with horses and/or learning to ride. And yes this describes both mounted and unmounted experiences. Confused yet? Ther’s more! Not all of the programs follow the same rules. Some centers are accredited by NARHA and use their guidelines to operate their centers. Others operate as an outpatient treatment facility or use CHA guidelines, while most are simply privately owned stables that offer an equine assisted service. But their purpose is the same, to enrich the lives of others through a relationship with horses. Aren’t Hoosiers awesome!
The majority of centers operate as a non-profit and rely on the help of volunteers to run their facility. Because the cost of horse care is so high, they also rely on the financial generosity of the community to function. Whether you are a parent of a child with a disability looking for a way to enhance the quality of life for your child or a horse owner, there are many ways to get involved. The Indiana Horse Council is always a good place to start to find local information. You can also look at the NARHA website for a list of centers in Indiana. Either way, do your homework and use your horsey sense to determine which program is a good fit. A good place to get up close and personal with centers and ask questions, is always the Hoosier Horse Fair coming up in April. As you can see their are a ton of resources at your disposal including me! If you have had an experience with a local program in Indiana I would love to hear your story. It may even appear as an article on the Examiner!