In July, the Healing with Horse article focused on the topic of why horses are so valuable to human healing. As facilitators or aspiring practitioners, this is a question that is relevant in our theoretical underpinnings, and follows in our marketing and public education. The ability to clearly articulate the unique lens(es) horses offer on human lives, along with compelling outcomes, continues to open space, appreciation, and value for EAP/L within the various human therapy, healing, learning, spirituality and wellness vocations within which we work. The article ended with the question:
If you, with a soul mate horse next to you, could reinvent the world even beyond your short life, what would you do?
It’s a question we can return to often, both as a way to keep in conversation with a larger vision of our life, and to spark new ideas.
This month, we are breaking this overarching question down to explore the foundations of our roles as practitioners/facilitators. Included in this blog post is a definition of Equine Assisted Practice, a discussion of what industry demands the expanding body of trainings address, and a discussion of the landscapes we walk as practitioners in a new but incredibly powerful path toward human wholeness.
We will begin with a quick review, just to establish some common ground.
Equine Assisted Practice Defined:
Generally speaking, practice with horses is defined by the human caring field within which a practitioner has been trained. These include:
- Mental health and therapy,
- Personal or professional coaching, which includes
- Leadership or team training. Then we have
- Education and teaching, or learning facilitation,
- Spirituality and personal enrichment or development, and
- Holistic healing or wellness.
The horse work is considered a supplement or method of working within these practices that serve the health and wellbeing of humans. And so it follows, of course, that practitioners not only have any required education and training within their human therapy or learning field, but also develop their craft in working with horses.
The word “craft” is no accident; it implies the specialist, like an artist, is both proficient with time-honored traditions (albeit, perhaps, from sources other than those of mainstream horse care, and may include extracting knowledge about horses from methods that serve a different overall agenda), as well as with a special set of skills honed through experience rather than exclusively intellectual avenues.
The relatively young stage of this work means that horse owners and specialists spend much of their time in discovery mode, learning from horses and a variety of horse specialists. There is a distinction to be made here: equine specialists working in the realms of EAP/L see horses as the guides or sources of wisdom rather than as the learners in client interactions. Rather than their ability to be ridden or their athleticism being the focus, horses’ ways of being, seeing, and processing, and engaging with the world opens sources of wisdom and enlightenment about our inner selves, our relational dynamics, and all those forces that make us yearn, change, transform, and do things we would not otherwise do (whether creative, destructive, or genius) if we were truly logical, exclusively conscious beings.
That focus on horse as a sentient being full of wisdoms we do not have, distinguishes the goals for working with horses in this field from most every other equine field out there, including natural horsemanship and most liberty training. This is a profound shift about which practitioners find there is an onion-peeling sort of learning to get to the heart of, not just for our clients but for ourselves and our practice/facilitation.
In addition to these two intertwined and lifetime learnings, many practitioners also have to balance business development and management skills.
The complexity of skill sets required makes obvious the need—and demand—for good training.
EAL/P Trainings and Certifications:
As we know or have experienced ourselves, when someone begins to form the idea that they could bring horses into work with humans, they discover there is a quickly growing field with lots of acronyms and trainings. I use “EAP/L” (Equine Assisted Psychotherapy/Learning) to represent the a whole field; at one time, some of the organizations agreed to use EAP/L as a universal acronym for teaming with equines in therapy and learning.
A universal acronym has not really been agreed up, however. This is because the acronym often marks the roots of the practitioner’s training. For example, if someone uses an “A” in the middle of the acronym (representing “Assisted”), they may be using it as a universal acronym as I do, or they may have been trained in an EAGALA-based program. An “F” for “Facilitated” usually traces back to a PATH-based training. A “G” can usually be traced to EGEA (Equine Guided Education Association), now Skyhorse Ranch’s training (though at one time EGEA offered the term “Guided” to be the universal form of the acronym), and a “C” represents “Coaching.”
So to summarize, whatever the acronym, EAP/L trainings focus on models, methods, and best practices for teaming with horses to amplify the learning of humans. They are intended to fulfill the need for skills with horses that are founded upon the horse as sentient being with wisdom that serves human healing and learning. These trainings or certifications supplement the training in human therapy, learning, or wellness.
EAP/L training includes an ever-expanding number of private certifications, professional organizations with particular models or methods, and universities with degrees or concentrations. New and aspiring colleagues can find themselves a bit lost, wondering about:
- The historical roots and present services of these trainings and organizations,
- What distinguishes the different programs,
- What each program focuses on and offers as outcomes of the training,
- How much time they take to complete,
- What they cost and what you receive for that cost, and
- What they require of their practitioners.
Clay Feet On the Path To Human Wholeness:
In a field as powerful, mystical, magical—and new—as EAP/L, there is a desire to find a way, and to package that way as an effective system, method, model, or approach. This is not just an impulse within EAP/L; it’s true with the various certifications in personal and professional coaching, therapy, and in natural horsemanship.
It’s an unfortunate truth that inadvertent misrepresentations of equine assisted practices, certifications, and organizations are common. Greater understanding and appreciation of the strengths and foci of different trainings and organizations would help new and aspiring professionals find what they need, as well as help all practitioners work with a language that can help their clients put words to experiences.
Such informed and clear distinctions could be a valuable part of ethics and professionalism. Practitioners could:
- Base distinctions on a correct representation of the models or organizations in order to help a person find what they most need,
- Provide no subtle form of “influence” (by implying that one method is “deeper” than others, or that other methods or models are abusive to horses) within discussions of various methods, trainings, or organizations.
When questions of distinctions come up, a practitioner could well serve both the questioner and their own persona if they trust, and articulate, that different models are just that: different—perhaps because of their historical origins and evolution, their client population, or other equally plausible and professional reasons.
Perhaps it would be better if the practitioner could accurately distinguish their approach from the other types of equine therapy and learning; this serves to represent our field—perhaps even distinguish it—as professional, benevolent, supportive, and effective.
Or perhaps, as Ram Das answers when asked about spiritual leaders and how to choose who to learn from, we could consider his answer:
I think that the idea should be to focus on teachings not teachers.
If you focus on teachers rather than teachings, you will spend all your time becoming a connoisseur of clay feet…
All I know is when I need a teaching of some sort, I go towards somebody who’s teaching that, and I take the teaching, and I keep taking the part of that which feels intuitively right with my own heart.
This work is evolving quickly. All models are evolving. If you thought you knew a training or organization at one time, that knowledge may be inaccurate now. One of the purposes of the Collective’s annual spring Tele Summit and Symposium is to provide opportunities to learn the most updated information about organizations and trainings.
Another is to share innovations. Many practitioners who are not focused on honing a particular model may learn and intertwine tools from a variety of trainings as well as their own backgrounds. As a result, they may base their practice on innovations that, if they are shared, could move the field forward exponentially.
Following one’s own path, heart and intuition, while keeping informed and in conversation with the innovations as well as the best practices in the field, can lead to the most fulfilling vocation. Here at the Collective, we commend you for the steps you have taken, for the brilliance you have nurtured. We support you on your path as you take well-worn steps, as well as when you must walk your own way.