Understanding Equine Assisted Services

Tailwinds Therapy is a mental health therapy practice located in Clovis, California that offers therapy services in office, online, and with horses.

When people hear that we offer therapy with horses, they often think that means we do therapy FOR horses. It always makes me laugh. While we do work with horses, the therapy we provide is still for the people we serve.

The field of Equine Assisted Services is still in its infancy overall, and as a result, many people do not fully understand the different types of services offered within the field. While people have been working with animals for therapeutic benefit for centuries, the field of Equine Assisted Services has really only been around for about twenty to thirty years.

In 2020, a group of leaders in the industry, combined with passionate researchers, teamed up to complete and publish a lengthy consensus document determining what would be the best terminology to help create consistency in the field of Equine Assisted Services.

You can read the original article, “Optimal Terminology for Services in the United States That Incorporate Horses to Benefit People: A Consensus Document” published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2021, by clicking here.

What are Equine Assisted Services?

To keep it simple, Equine Assisted Services encompasses a field where providers partner with horses to provide their service. It is different from traditional horsemanship, riding lessons, and horse training.

Most Equine Assisted Services are provided with a team approach. Depending on the service, a specialist in their field typically partners with an equine specialist who is an expert in understanding horse behaviors, horse management, and equine welfare. This allows the team opportunity to be mindful of both the needs of the client or participant and the needs of the horse(s) in session.

There are three main categories of Equine Assisted Services: 1. Therapy services, 2. Horsemanship, and 3. Learning.

1. Therapy Services:

The first category of therapy services includes psychotherapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and other licensed professionals. The providers are licensed professionals in their field and have specialized training and certifications to incorporate working with horses into their specialty. When providers have specialized training in understanding trauma, they may also designate if they offer trauma-informed or trauma-focused services.

The services they provide must remain within the scope of practice for their professional license and also within their scope of competence (i.e. level of training and experience).

For example, I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and my practice offers psychotherapy services for clients experiencing anxiety, depression, grief and loss, trauma, or difficulty with a life transition. I maintain my certification through the Equine Assisted Growth And Learning Association (EAGALA) and I am level-one trained in Natural Lifemanship. Additionally, I have almost 30 years of horse experience. My professional training, certifications, and my experience with horses offers me the opportunity to provide Trauma-Focused Equine Assisted Services as both a mental health specialist and as an equine specialist.

2. Horsemanship

Traditional horsemanship involves learning to groom, tack, ride, care for, and train horses. This is often the first approach people have to interacting with horses through riding lessons or learning to care for a horse.

Traditional horsemanship can be adapted to support participants with diverse needs and abilities. Creating accessibility to ride, groom, and interact with horses for a variety of participants is known as adaptive riding or adaptive horsemanship. This is usually provided by an experienced horse-person known as an equine specialist. The goal of the services is for the participants to be able to have access to the world of horses and be able to benefit from connection with them while having services adapted to their needs. Ideally, the providers would also obtain supportive training, continued education, or certification to provide the highest quality of care as possible.

3. Equine Assisted Learning

Equine Assisted Learning is a field where providers partner with horses to provide learning and skill-building opportunities for participants that are not of therapeutic focus. For example, providers have adapted school-based reading programs where children work with the horses to practice their reading skills. Corporate trainings and team-building retreats may incorporate Equine Assisted Learning to improve their problem-solving, communication, or other business or personal needs.

The ideal language to explain these services would distinguish between Equine Assisted Learning in Education, Equine Assisted Learning in Organizations, and Equine Assisted Learning in Personal Development.

In effort to unify the terminology within the field, they are encouraging providers to shift away from previously used phrases such as: Equine Therapy, Therapy Riding, Hippotherapy, Equine Assisted Activities, Equestrian Therapy, and Horse Therapy.

Even language such as Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy can still create confusion for those seeking services.

To improve, it is suggested to begin shifting to using more therapy-first language such as psychotherapy incorporating horses, occupational therapy in partnership with horses, and physical therapy in partnership with horses. This language clarifies the type of service being provided and helps explain the scope of practice of the provider.

This shift will come with its challenges, however, as the average person is already not very familiar with this field. When searching for providers they often type in “horse therapy,” “equine therapy,” or “therapy with horses,” into the search bar, and end up with a variety of pages turned up by the search.

I know my transition to the newer language will be gradual and I plan to do my best to help continue to educate and adjust as I continue my own learning as well.

Why The Language Matters:

When I started my practice in 2019, I knew I wanted to become a leader in this industry someday. I care deeply about helping people understand the differences between the types of Equine Assisted Services and helping link people to the right services for their needs. I believe in collaboration over competition and I want to see more providers offer this service in their community. Additionally, creating clarity around our services helps to legitimize the efficacy of the services we offer. Every time I take another training, or I read another book about trauma-informed care, I always see that somewhere in there the authors or trainers endorse Animal Assisted Services or Equine Assisted Services. It never fails to bring tears to my eyes as I have personally seen the power of this work.

The program we offer through Tailwinds Therapy, called “Take The Reins” provides psychotherapy incorporating horses. Clients participate in a 12-week individual therapy program where all therapy services are provided outdoors in the company of the horses. We begin with an initial assessment where our treatment team formulates a diagnosis and treatment plan. Then over the 12-week program, sessions are tailored to each client. Our treatment team determines appropriate activities and interventions the clients do with the horses that help them reach their treatment goals. At the end of the program, the client can re-enroll to continue at a deeper level, transition to office or online therapy services, or complete services if they have met all their treatment goals.

Learn More:

To learn more about all our practice has to offer, click “Our Services” on the website menu.

In addition to this post, I made an informational video that further helps explain the different branches of Equine Assisted Services. To view, please click the link below to see the YouTube video. Enjoy!

Or check out and share our reel on Instagram about The Field of Equine Assisted Services.


Wendy Wood, Kathy Alm, Joann Benjamin, Lynn Thomas, Debbie Anderson, Lissa Pohl, and Michele Kane.Optimal Terminology for Services in the United States That Incorporate Horses to Benefit People: A Consensus Document.The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.Jan 2021.88-95.


1 thought on “Understanding Equine Assisted Services”

  1. I am glad that horse therapy is becoming more and more popular. At my difficult age, I thought it was all nonsense, but since that time I have been inextricably linked with them, horses. It definitely worked on me, so I have no doubt that it can help others.

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