Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy

Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy – EFP – is a type of experiential psychotherapy built around interactions with horses. EFP can be used to assist people with mental and emotional difficulties, including anxiety and mood disorders, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), behavioral challenges, or undergoing life transitions or losses. Therapy must be applied by a provider who is trained and licensed (by their state) to practice psychotherapy or counseling. The therapist should have additional training and experience in facilitating EFP; often sessions are facilitated jointly by a trained therapist and an equine specialist especially when working with more than one client at a time.

Therapists and counselors who incorporate EFP  may work with individuals, families or groups in the equine environment, with a herd of horses or an individual horse. They may specialize in youth or adult clients or in a particular issue such as substance abuse treatment or trauma. The horse gives feedback to the client, therapist and others involved in the session. The horse is respected as a partner in the treatment session. Most therapists will integrate EFP with other therapeutic techniques that help clients integrate and extend what they experience. Therapists who utilize EFP should be willing to discuss with you their credentials, experience and how EFP is integrated into their practice of psychotherapy.

Also known as: Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, Equine-Facilitated Mental Health, Equine Assisted Counseling. Some people just call it ‘therapy with horses’!

Equine-Facilitated Learning

Equine-Facilitated Learning – EFL – is a term covering a wide array of social and emotional learning activities organized around horse experiences. EFL facilitators may be experienced  educators , business consultants, personal coaches or certified in alternative health fields. Practitioners of EFL are not regulated or licensed; consumers should ask about the EFL practitioner’s background and qualifications. EFL may contribute to positive outcomes for a client although the activity itself is not therapy.

Many EFL programs are designed for youth. Such programs help troubled or at-risk young people to build resilience and healthy ego strength. EFL allows an experiential and behavioral approach to teaching abstract concepts such as boundaries, teamwork and cooperation. EFL  helps improve cognitive functioning such as organizing behavior and strategizing to accomplish goals. In most youth programs riding activities are combined with ground work, emphasizing partnership-based horsemanship.

EFL can be used effectively for adults in leadership training and corporate team building for businesses. Usually riding is not utilized and instead ground exercises that involve congruence of non-verbal communication, ability to balance focus on a goal with focus on the team.

Some EFL practitioners emphasize transpersonal experiences, from animal communication to shamanism; some emphasize self-awareness and the teaching of mindfulness skills as resilience and recovery factors to those at risk of poor choices or simply high stress.

Also known as: Equine-Facilitated Experiential Learning, Equine-Facilitated Personal Growth, Equine Assisted Coaching, Equine Assisted Personal Development.


Hippotherapy is a form of physical, occupational or speech therapy in which a therapist uses the characteristic movements of a horse to provide carefully graded motor and sensory input. Hippotherapy must be prescribed and provided by a trained and licensed physical, occupational or speech and language therapist. The foundation of sensorimotor integration established in hippotherapy can improve neurological function and sensory processing, which can be generalized to a wide range of daily activities. The movement of the horse is a means to a treatment goal when utilizing hippotherapy as a treatment strategy.

Also known as: Equine Assisted Physical Therapy

Therapeutic Riding

Therapeutic Riding (TR) is a somewhat generalized term encompassing riding activities pursued specifically for therapeutic outcome. Therapeutic riding is most often provided by a riding instructor with special training, who in many cases will be under the direction of a hippotherapist (see above). TR uses horseback riding to positively impact cognitive, physical, emotional and social well-being for participants. Long recognized as a therapy of tremendous benefit to children with disabilities such as cerebral palsy or Downs syndrome, TR has now broadened and shows tremendous promise in treatment of autism, sensory integration disorders, language development and trauma recovery in children.

Therapeutic Riding provides benefits in the areas of therapy, education sport and recreation & leisure. Throughout the world, there are thousands of individuals with special needs who experience the rewarding benefits of horseback riding. A disability does not have to limit a person from riding horses. In fact, experiencing the motion of a horse can be very therapeutic. Because horseback riding rhythmically moves the rider’s body in a manner similar to a human gait, riders with physical disabilities often show improvement in flexibility, balance and muscle strength. In addition to the therapeutic benefits, horseback riding also provides recreational opportunities for individuals with disabilities to enjoy the outdoors.

Therapeutic Riding is used to mentally and physically stimulate disabled persons and help them improve their lives through improved balance and coordination, increased self-confidence, and a greater feeling of freedom and independence.

(from NARHA – http://narha.org/resources-education/resources/eaat)

Related terms and fields of activity: Equine Assisted Activities, Therapeutic Ddriving, Therapeutic Vaulting

Professional Organizations Offering Support to Practitioners

NARHA is an international voice for equine-assisted activities and therapies, including EFP and EFL, and provides standards of professionalism and safety for people working in those disciplines – http://www.narha.org/

EAGALA  for EAP – http://www.eagala.org/

EGEA for  EFL – http://www.equineguidededucation.org/

E³A  for EFL – http://www.e3assoc.org/