How to Become an Equine Therapist

Equine therapy, an innovative approach within the field of mental health and rehabilitation, utilizes horses to facilitate physical and emotional healing. As a prospective student curious about the possibilities within this rewarding field, understanding the journey to becoming an equine therapist is essential. This guide will explore what equine therapy entails, the educational paths available, and the professional landscape, providing a foundation for those aspiring to integrate their passion for horses with a career in therapy.

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What Is Equine Therapy?

Equine therapy, or equine-assisted therapy (EAT), is a form of experiential treatment involving interactions between patients and horses. This therapy has gained significant traction in mental health, rehabilitation, and educational settings, leveraging the unique bond between humans and horses to promote emotional growth and healing.

Variations of Equine Therapy

Equine therapy encompasses several methods, each serving different therapeutic goals:

  • Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP): This involves incorporating horses into the therapeutic process to help patients address and explore emotional issues under the guidance of a licensed therapist.
  • Equine-Assisted Learning (EAL): Focused on educational and developmental goals, EAL uses activities with horses to enhance personal skills such as responsibility, teamwork, and communication.
  • Therapeutic Riding: Different from EAP and EAL, therapeutic riding focuses on riding skills and physical therapy benefits, often helping with strength, coordination, and flexibility.

Benefits of Equine Therapy

The benefits of equine therapy are broad and profound, particularly for individuals struggling with mental health disorders, emotional trauma, or physical disabilities. Horses are highly responsive animals and can provide immediate feedback to the patient's actions or emotions, which helps in developing self-awareness and behavioral changes. Key benefits include:

  • Emotional Awareness and Management: Patients learn to process and discuss their feelings, experiences, and behaviors.
  • Social Skills: Interacting with horses and therapists provides a safe environment to foster social interactions and relationship skills.
  • Physical Health: Activities like grooming, feeding, and riding improve motor skills and can be physically therapeutic.

Equine therapy has shown effectiveness in treating conditions such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, ADHD, and autism, among others. The approach not only helps in treatment but also in building confidence, self-efficiency, and coping skills, making it a versatile tool in therapeutic settings.

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Educational Path to Becoming an Equine Therapist

Embarking on a career as an equine therapist requires a blend of formal education, hands-on training, and certification. Here’s how prospective students can navigate their educational journey to reach this unique and impactful profession.

Degrees and Certifications

  1. Bachelor’s Degree:
    • Field of Study: Start with a bachelor's degree in fields like psychology, social work, animal science, or a related field. These programs provide the foundational knowledge necessary for understanding human and animal behavior.
    • Relevant Courses: Look for courses in animal behavior, psychology, and basic horsemanship, which are essential for equine therapy.
  2. Master’s Degree (Optional but Recommended):
    • Advanced Study: A master's degree in mental health counseling, psychology, or equine-assisted therapy can provide deeper insights and specialized knowledge, enhancing your qualifications.
    • Clinical Experience: Most master’s programs include clinical practice, offering hands-on experience in therapeutic settings.

Certification Programs

Practical Experience

  • Internships and Practicums: Gaining experience through internships or practicums during or after your educational programs is vital. These experiences provide practical skills and a chance to work directly with clients and horses under supervision.


  • State Licensure: Depending on the state and your role, you may need to be licensed as a mental health professional. Ensure you meet the specific licensure requirements, which typically involve passing a board examination and completing supervised clinical hours.

Continued Education and Specialization

  • Workshops and Seminars: Continued learning through workshops and seminars helps keep your skills sharp and your knowledge up to date. These are also great opportunities to network and learn from experienced professionals in the field.

Choosing the Right Program

  • Accreditation and Approval: Ensure that any educational or certification program you choose is accredited or recognized by relevant professional bodies. This recognition can impact your ability to get licensed and your job prospects.

Typical Curriculum in Degree or Certification Programs

To become an equine therapist, engaging in the right educational programs is crucial. These programs not only provide the requisite knowledge but also ensure you are well-prepared for professional practice. Here’s an overview of the typical curriculum you might encounter in degree or certification programs focused on equine therapy.

Core Courses

  1. Introduction to Equine-Assisted Therapies:
    • Overview of equine-assisted therapies and their role in mental health and rehabilitation.
    • Discussion of various models of equine therapy and their theoretical underpinnings.
  2. Psychology and Counseling Fundamentals:
    • Basic principles of psychology and counseling techniques.
    • Courses may include human development, psychological assessment, and counseling theories.
  3. Animal Behavior and Equine Management:
    • Studies on equine behavior, care, and management crucial for safely integrating horses into therapeutic practices.
    • Includes practical handling, safety protocols, and understanding equine cues.

Specialized Training

  1. Methods in Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP):
    • Specific techniques for integrating equine interactions into therapeutic sessions.
    • Application of EAP in various client scenarios, focusing on setting therapeutic goals and measuring outcomes.
  2. Clinical Practice and Ethics:
    • Ethical considerations in therapy, focusing on both human and animal welfare.
    • Hands-on clinical practicum involving real-world therapy sessions under supervision.

Additional Electives and Workshops

  1. Advanced Topics in Mental Health:
    • Electives on specific mental health issues such as trauma, addiction, or family therapy.
    • How equine therapy can be tailored to meet diverse client needs.
  2. Workshops on Non-Verbal Communication:
    • Training on interpreting and utilizing non-verbal cues from both clients and horses.
    • Enhancing therapeutic presence and empathy through effective communication skills.

Certification Preparation

  1. Preparation for Certification:
    • Courses designed to prepare students for certification exams.
    • Review of case studies, ethical dilemmas, and regulatory standards specific to equine therapy.

Integration of Theory and Practice

  1. Capstone Projects:
    • Opportunities for students to design and implement a pilot study or community project involving equine therapy.
    • Encourages synthesis of theoretical knowledge and practical skills.


Job Roles and Settings for Equine Therapists

Equine therapists find their skills in demand across a variety of settings, each offering unique opportunities to apply their specialized training in helping clients. Here’s an overview of typical job roles and the environments where equine therapists can practice their craft.

Primary Job Roles

  1. Clinical Equine Therapist:
    • Directly works with clients using horses as part of therapeutic sessions to address mental health issues such as anxiety, PTSD, or depression.
    • May work in tandem with psychologists, social workers, and other mental health professionals.
  2. Equine-Assisted Learning Specialist:
    • Focuses on educational and developmental goals, using equine-assisted activities to improve clients’ emotional and social skills.
    • Commonly employed in educational settings or special education programs.
  3. Therapeutic Riding Instructor:
    • Utilizes therapeutic riding techniques to improve physical, emotional, and developmental conditions in clients.
    • Works closely with physical therapists and occupational therapists.

Work Settings

  • Rehabilitation Centers:
    • Provide treatment for substance abuse, trauma recovery, and other serious health issues.
    • Equine therapists contribute to a holistic approach to recovery.
  • Private Practice:
    • Some equine therapists operate their own practice, providing services directly to clients in a more controlled and personalized setting.
  • Community Mental Health Organizations:
    • These organizations often cater to under-served populations, where equine therapists can make significant impacts, especially in rural areas.
  • Hospitals and Clinical Settings:
    • In more clinical environments, equine therapists work as part of a multidisciplinary team focused on patient rehabilitation and therapy.
  • Educational Facilities and Schools:
    • Equine therapists in these settings may focus on children and adolescents, facilitating programs that support emotional and social learning.

Collaborative Roles

  • Veterinarians and Equine Care Specialists:
    • Equine therapists often collaborate with veterinarians and other equine professionals to ensure the health and welfare of the therapy horses, integral to providing effective therapy.
  • Research and Development:
    • Some equine therapists engage in research, studying the efficacy of equine-assisted therapies and developing new methodologies and practices.

Job Outlook and Salary for Equine Therapists

Equine therapy, as a specialized field within mental health and rehabilitation services, is part of the broader professional category of recreational therapists or mental health counselors, depending on the specific role. Here’s what current data suggest about the job outlook and salary in this growing field.

Job Outlook

The demand for recreational therapists, which includes professionals using equine therapy, is expected to grow. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in this sector is projected to grow by about 4% from 2022 to 2032, which is slightly faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is driven by an increased recognition of the benefits that therapeutic recreation and holistic approaches offer in treatment and rehabilitation.

For mental health counselors, the outlook is even more favorable, with an expected growth rate of 18% over the same period. As mental health awareness increases and more people seek non-traditional therapies, the demand for equine-assisted therapy services is likely to rise correspondingly.

Salary Information

  • Recreational Therapists: The median annual wage for recreational therapists was approximately $57,120 in 2023. Those working in specialized hospital services or private sectors might earn more.
  • Mental Health Counselors: For mental health counselors, of which equine therapists can be a part, the median annual wage was around $53,710. Those with specialties in niche areas like equine therapy often command higher salaries due to the unique skills and certifications required.

Factors Influencing Salary

  • Geographic Location: Salaries can vary significantly based on where an equine therapist practices, with higher wages typically found in urban centers.
  • Experience and Education: As with most professions, more experienced therapists with advanced training and certifications tend to earn higher wages.
  • Work Setting: Those employed by private practices or in specialty clinics often have higher earnings compared to those working in community health centers or educational settings.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming an Equine Therapist

Equine therapy is a unique and fulfilling career path, but prospective students often have many questions about entering this field. Here are some of the most common inquiries along with their answers to help clarify what aspiring equine therapists can expect.

What qualifications are needed to become an equine therapist?

To become an equine therapist, you typically need a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field such as psychology, social work, or animal science. Further, obtaining a postgraduate certification in equine therapy and completing a specified amount of supervised clinical experience are crucial. Specific requirements can vary by state and employer.

How long does it take to become certified as an equine therapist?

The duration to become a certified equine therapist can vary. Typically, a bachelor’s degree takes four years to complete, followed by certification programs which can range from several months to two years, depending on the program’s intensity and the candidate’s schedule.

What is the difference between equine-assisted psychotherapy and therapeutic riding?

Equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) focuses on using interactions with horses to achieve emotional growth and learning. It is facilitated by a mental health professional and does not necessarily involve riding. Therapeutic riding, on the other hand, emphasizes the physical health benefits of horseback riding and is often led by specially trained instructors.

Can equine therapists work in private practice?

Yes, equine therapists can operate their private practices, especially those with extensive experience and a robust client base. However, starting in a facility that offers equine therapy can provide valuable experience and credibility in the field.

What are the ongoing requirements for an equine therapist?

Equine therapists are required to engage in continuing education to keep their certification active. This might involve attending workshops, seminars, or advanced courses related to equine therapy and mental health. Continuing education helps therapists stay updated with the latest methods and improve their practice.

Are there different levels of certification in equine therapy?

Yes, there are different levels of certification, starting from introductory courses to advanced practice qualifications. Higher levels of certification may allow therapists to handle more complex cases and offer supervision to other professionals in the field.

Do You Need a Degree to Be an Equine Therapist?

Yes, obtaining a degree is typically necessary to become an equine therapist. Most professionals in this field start with at least a bachelor’s degree in a related area such as psychology, social work, animal science, or a similar field. This educational foundation is crucial because it provides the necessary knowledge of human and animal behavior, therapy techniques, and ethical considerations involved in equine therapy.

Additionally, most certifying bodies for equine therapy require candidates to have completed a certain level of formal education before they can enroll in certification programs. These certification programs often require both coursework and hands-on experience with horses, which are essential for safely and effectively conducting therapy sessions.

While a master’s degree is not always mandatory, obtaining advanced education can enhance your qualifications and may be necessary for higher-level positions or for those who wish to operate their own private practices. It also prepares you for more complex cases and can provide a competitive edge in the job market.

Taking the Next Steps in Your Career as an Equine Therapist

Choosing to become an equine therapist is a decision that can lead to a deeply rewarding career, blending a love for animals with a passion for helping others. As you have learned throughout this guide, embarking on this path involves dedicated education, certification, and a commitment to ongoing professional development.

Key Takeaways

  • Education and Certification: Begin with a relevant bachelor’s degree and advance through specialized certification in equine therapy, ensuring you meet all educational and practical requirements.
  • Diverse Career Opportunities: Equine therapists work in a variety of settings, from rehabilitation centers to private practices, each offering unique challenges and rewards.
  • Growing Field: With the increasing recognition of the benefits of therapeutic interventions involving animals, the demand for qualified equine therapists is on the rise, promising a robust job market.
  • Continuous Learning: Staying informed about the latest developments in equine therapy and maintaining your certifications through continuing education are crucial for career longevity and effectiveness.

Why Pursue a Career in Equine Therapy?

Equine therapy is more than just a job—it’s a way to make a significant impact on the lives of others while working in an environment that fosters compassion and growth. If you are seeking a career that offers both personal fulfillment and professional development, equine therapy might be the perfect path for you.

We encourage you to further explore this exciting field, connect with educational programs, and perhaps even visit an equine therapy center to witness the profound impact these therapies have on individuals’ lives. Your journey to becoming an equine therapist could be just the beginning of a life-changing profession.


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