In my previous article I clarified terms used in Equine Assisted Therapy/ Learning and the credentials required by those who offer programs. Some programs require an equine specialist [ES] who needs an in-depth knowledge of horse behavior, body language, and psychology. When we bring animals into therapy/learning sessions, we are incorporating them for the benefit of our clients. They are not a tool, rather they are sentient living beings and part of a team. For horses to participate in this unique experiential experience we need to understand and advocate for their needs.
The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) provides guidelines, referred to as the Five Freedoms for the ethical care of horses involved in EAT. Freedom from:
1.Hunger and Thirst- provide fresh water and feed.
- Discomfort- providing appropriate space, shelter.
- Pain, Injury, or Disease- appropriate veterinary care; hygiene of animals and property.
- Fear and Distress- providing a stimulating and safe environment, humane handling; and,
- Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour-turn out, companionship.
Can a horse experience stress during an EAT/L session? Yes, and for this reason the ES needs to recognize changes in the horses’ behaviour and be watchful for both human and horses’ emotional and physical safety. Be aware of how often you schedule a horse. When a session is finished, return horses to a paddock where they can roll, play, shake it off – be a horse.
Providers of EAT/L have an ethical responsibility to ensure the welfare of their equine partners.
Anne Porteous, owner of Sierra Acres Equine Assisted Learning Program can be contacted on Facebook, or firstname.lastname@example.org For more information about services go to www.sierracres.ca