BY SUE MCINTOSH
THE QUICK ANSWER
THE LONGER ANSWER
If you plan to incorporate non-equines into your equine therapy practice, I recommend you give some thought to the following areas of consideration.
CLIENT COMFORT LEVEL
CLIENT SAFETY (PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL)
EFW Canada have comprehensive requirements around client safety as do most certifying bodies and thus safety is explored and discussed during all trainings at Healing Hooves. While our primary focus is upon equine work we extend this to apply to the other animals worked with at Healing Hooves. At our Exploration training we explore safety through mini case studies drawn from real life examples during which we consider who is at risk (client, animal, facilitator), what the risks are, and how the risk could be mitigated and/ or avoided. These include scenarios with non-equines and we encourage you to bring your own case studies for us to discuss.
I believe that this sentience, and thus our responsibility, applies to all the species of animals we work with.
We need to be constantly assessing our animals’ well being and comfort level in, and suitability for, this work, give them lots of time off, allow them to retire when they are ready, and take care of their needs. How we do this is going to be different for different species. For example, most cats will be pretty good at setting their own boundaries about who they interact with and when, while a dog or rabbit may need more support. As with our horses it comes down to knowing the species, knowing the individual animals, listening, and then acting on their behalf as and when needed.
For example, at Healing Hooves, in addition to our horses we have several cats and a border collie. Our border collie, Maggie, loves to meet and greet clients and to chase the occasional ball. We also regularly talk about her antics and have even written one of our therapeutic stories about her. But there is no way Maggie would feel comfortable joining us in the office for a counselling session, and for everyone’s safety we keep her separate when we work with the horses.
Our cats also have preferences. Max starts off most sessions sitting on the client’s feet to make sure they notice him and pick him up, while two of our cats are rarely seen by any client. They are friendly and affectionate family cats but have chosen not to be therapy cats, except on very rare occasions. We honour their boundaries and the possibility that these will change over time.
We also screen for animal abuse and closely monitor, supervise and address as needed how our clients interact with all our animals at all times.
CERTIFICATION AND TRAINING
Most EFW certifying bodies only certify you for your work with equines: horses, donkeys and mules.
If your ‘non-equine’ work will be limited to your clients playing with or cuddling your friendly barn cats at the start or end of their session or reading stories about your dog and building this into your equine work, then the training we provide at Healing Hooves and certification through EFW Canada is likely sufficient to prepare you for this work. Our facilitators are trained and certified in AAT as well as in EFW, much of what we teach is applicable to non-equines, and we regularly incorporate our barn cats and occasionally our dog, into both our client sessions and training workshops. As noted above you need to extend the considerations around ethics, care and safety (physical and emotional) to include all the animals that will be interacting with your clients, and check your insurance coverage.
If your ‘non-equine” work will be with a more specialised or exotic species, or if it becomes a significant part of your practice I would recommend you explore an AAT certification program which includes a focus upon working with that specific species. There are many online programs that offer AAT training, and we also highly recommend the training programs from Eileen Bona at Dreamcatcher Nature Assisted Therapy near Edmonton.
Eileen currently has a blog series which answers similar questions to this FAQ series – but about non-equines – which is well worth watching.
There are currently no programs in Canada I am aware of that will certify a horse for EFW, however selecting and training your EFW horses, and attending to their physical and emotional needs before, during and after client work, is something that is covered within all EFW Canada approved training. At Healing Hooves, we introduce this during our exploration training with discussions around the role of the horse, safety, ethics and the impact of this work upon the horse. We then extend this during both weeks of focus training with a whole day of each training dedicated to exploring and applying a horsemanship approach that fits well within EFW Canada philosophies. EFW Canada have comprehensive requirements in this area, both in terms of what is taught at training workshops and the skills you are required to demonstrate.
INTERACTION BETWEEN DIFFERENT SPECIES
The beauty of this is that it ends up being so good for us; remember all the healing benefits this work and being with animals brings to our clients? We get to experience it too.
At Healing Hooves, we do not allow clients to bring their own animals onsite for a variety of safety reasons and due to the nature of our work. Again, this is not a ‘rule’ for all practitioners in the field and if you can keep things safe for all involved you may be able to do things differently.
One way to safely honour and build upon your clients’ relationships with their animals is by encouraging them to share pictures, share stories and talk about their animals. This includes animals they may have lost and can be a hugely powerful and healing aspect of equine and animal assisted therapies.
- CCPA Animal Assisted Counselling in Therapy Chapter
- Dream Catcher Nature Assisted Therapy
- Pet Partners (formerly the Delta Society)
- The Chimo Project
- Your Insurance company or advisor
- Your mental health or education professional association
Note: If you are unsure of any of the terminology or acronyms we used above please refer to our earlier blog post where we defined and reviewed these terms for you.