Terminology in this Area can be Diverse and Confusing. We use the terms EAT and EAL as being currently the most widely used, but debate around refining consensus on terminology is ongoing.
Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT) is a specialised branch of animal assisted therapy which involves horses and donkeys in a range of treatments and activities in order to support human physical and mental health.
EAT has been used in treating physical health since the 1960s. This form of EAT is often known as Hippotherapy, a term which literally means ‘treatment with the horse’. It is a methodology used by specially qualified physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and speech and language therapists in which the movement of the walking horse is utilised to achieve treatment outcomes in physical health, such as improvements in motor skills, core strength, posture, cognitive impairment, and speech and language development.
The use of EAT in mental health treatment is a more recent development but it is a rapidly expanding field. There are a number of approaches to equine involvement in psychological therapy, including Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) and Equine Assisted Learning (EAL). It is important to note some of the key differences between these forms of equine therapy.
EAP is conducted by a mental health professional, such as a psychotherapist or counsellor, and aims to treat emotional, social, and behavioural issues. In EAP, the mental health professional facilitates the process between the client and the horse to create a safe, supportive space for the client to reflect, communicate, build positive relationships, and learn about themselves and others in this process. EAP sessions usually involve unmounted, ground activities rather than riding activities.
EAL is led by a certified facilitator with equine experience and a qualification in the use of equines in therapy, learning, or coaching. The facilitator can be supported by EAT assistants, who are often volunteers with experience of working with horses. EAL is essentially concerned with learning through horses; facilitators use a wide range of equine-assisted activities to help clients develop transferable life skills and achieve personal learning goals. EAL methods are also used to promote educational and social development. It is particularly well suited for group activities as participants can learn from each other. Activities in EAL range from practical work with the horses, such as mucking out, grooming, and animal care; to observation of horse behaviour and learning about animal welfare; to mounted activities.