What is Equine Therapy?

What is Equine Therapy?

By Kate Naylor and Bettina Shultz-Jobe

“Equine therapy” is probably the most commonly used term to describe, well, just about any therapeutic service involving horses.  It is the most commonly searched term online, and we as practitioners use it all the time.

But, there is a problem.

It’s incorrect and it’s confusing.

Using the term “equine therapy” to label the work that we do in equine assisted services not only muddies our work, but complicates marketing and most importantly, leaves consumers confused and often seeking the wrong services for their needs.

This matters.  For the integrity of our field, for the wellbeing of our clients, and for the health of our businesses.

So what is “equine therapy”?

Equine therapy literally means therapy for equines. This can encompass many wonderful services such as equine massage, masterson method, chiropractic work, reiki, nutritional therapy…the list goes on and on. But importantly, it is a therapeutic intervention for the horse, not the human associated with the horse.

How many times have you explained the work you do to somebody who thought you did therapy for the horse? I’ve had people tell me that they were picturing an actual horse on a therapy couch. We often giggle and then I clarify, but the language we use in this field seems to contribute to this image.

Enter: Equine Assisted Services

The correct umbrella term for what we do is Equine Assisted Services. Making this distinction is valuable on multiple levels. You can learn a bit more about our terminology here.

I hate to muddy the waters here, but it’s worth mentioning. . . Some practitioners do, indeed, integrate equine therapy (therapy for the equine) into equine assisted services (services for the person). This is powerful work that Bettina touched on in a recent webinar. In NL we do believe that Equine Assisted Services should be good for the equine too, but our primary goals are specific to the person receiving services.  

Getting Clear on the Services We Offer

When we describe our services as “equine assisted”, it prompts us to understand what services our equines assist.  In a recent paper, leaders in our field argued for more clarity in terminology.  One suggestion was, when speaking or writing about our work, we should lead with the service and then add “…integrating equines”; as in “mental health counseling integrating equines”.  Or “psychotherapy in partnership with horses”, or “physical therapy using equine movement”, or “occupational therapy in equine environments”, etc.

While this is a mouthful, I admit, I often use this language when describing what it is I do for work. It just is more clear. And importantly, it leads with what it is I actually do. When I lead with this concept, not only is my potential client more clear on whether I can meet their needs, but I am more clear as well. I have to know my scope of practice, my skill set, in order to speak in this fashion. This is a matter of ethics and competence, as well as effectiveness.

We have a problem in our field of believing that just being with the horses is sufficient. While horses are incredible partners in healing work, I think we can all agree, it is necessary for the health and well being of the humans we serve that we develop ourselves professionally separate from the horses. Knowing the service that I offer, with or without equines, makes me a better practitioner.

Now, maybe saying “I offer mindfulness practices in partnership with horses” feels like too much of a mouthful – that’s where “equine assisted mindfulness” can come in.  Using this language instead of “equine therapy” is not only an important point of clarity for the work itself, but is incredibly impactful in your marketing and business building.

Incorrectly using “Equine Therapy” creates confusion

When I search “equine therapy” I get a bazillion results all touting a variety of equine related practices. It is confusing and overwhelming, to say the least. But if I am a consumer searching for mindfulness, and “equine assisted mindfulness” pops up as an option? Cool! Now that’s more like it.

Your business is more likely to be found by the right people, the people who want what you do.  This is a win-win created by more clarity and precision in your language. When you are clear on what you offer, separate from the equines, and use the correct terminology, you will reach the right audience, and the right audience will be able to find you.

Accurate terminology helps people find right-fit services

Lastly, and most importantly, when consumers have heard the term “equine therapy” used over and over, and then utilize that term to search for a practitioner for themselves or a loved one, they can be lost in a sea of services that do not fit them. Worse, consumers self-select an inappropriate service.

If a licensed mental health therapist specializing in trauma processing markets as an “equine therapy” practice, and so does the life coach down the road, and so does the yoga teacher around the corner, and so does the therapeutic riding center across town – how is a consumer, likely uninformed in all these different modalities, supposed to choose what is right for them?  

Each of these services is very, very different, and is designed to meet specific and unique goals.  And, if a client with undiagnosed PTSD (or another specific and sensitive issue) chooses a practitioner that is unqualified to recognize and treat that issue, significant harm can be done. That is the last thing we all want.

Clarity in language fuels our professional evolution, better marketing, and more safety and accuracy for our clients – better services for consumers is absolutely the goal. This clarity is a necessary detail that shouldn’t be overlooked.

For more conversation on this topic, check out Bettina’s recent webinar.



Layers Upon Layers of Learning

Layers Upon Layers of Learning

Last night we hosted Rebecca Hubbard with Pecan Creek Ranch for a webinar about integrating NL principles into practice.  Natural Lifemanship is a principle-based, client-driven and  equine-guided modality.  It is a perspective, an ethos, a philosophy, as well as an approach, which means that it can guide almost any service intended to help people learn, grow, and heal.  AND it is not a specific protocol, which is sometimes a challenge for those who are new to the field.

For me, one of the biggest takeaways from our webinar last night was that learning, growth, and healing is not a linear process – it’s a layered one.

Weaving the principles of NL into your practice is something that looks different for every practitioner and healer. While your journey is your own, it is our intention and our mission to walk with you every step of the way.

We are so excited about the many tools Reccia Jobe and Rebecca Hubbard have developed to help you integrate NL principles into your practice in a way that works for you and your clients.


Pecan Creek is Offering Discounts on Their Products!

Until September 10th, NL Members and those who sign up for this cohort of the Fundamentals of NL can take 15% off all tools and products on the Pecan Creek Ranch website.

If you are not an NL Member, you can learn more about membership and sign up here. This is just one of MANY benefits available to our community.  Once you join you’ll get a coupon code for 15% off Pecan Creek products.

If you have not taken the Fundamentals of NL, we would love to have you!  This training is the first step in the NL Certification process, and the place where most of our students start.  Sign up now and we’ll send you those coupon codes!


Natural Lifemanship is offering a special discount too!

We would also love for you to learn from Pecan Creek Ranch, in-person, at a Clinical Immersion, so we are offering a $75 discount to NL members and new NL Fundamentals students to attend this powerful and intimate learning experience.

During the Clinical Immersion you will have the opportunity to see Reccia and Rebecca in action – observe therapy sessions and ask questions in real-time. Your time with them is fully customized, and you can attend once you finish the Fundamentals of NL! (The Clinical Immersion can also be counted toward your NL Certification!)

Save $75 on this immersion when you register before September 10th.  Once you register, Pecan Creek will reach out so you can choose dates that work for you.  Sign up for the Fundamentals of NL or Become an NL Member and we’ll send you the coupon code for $75 off.

Sign up for the Fundamentals of NL


Become an NL Member


I’m Drowning and Don’t Know How to Begin. . .

Remember, learning is a layered process!  Start with the Fundamentals of NL.  Purchase tools to help you integrate your learning into the work you’re doing with clients.

Keep learning.

If you can swing it, come to a Clinical Immersion.  BUT whatever you do, PURCHASE THIS BOOK!

Rebecca Hubbard and Reccia Jobe’s new book, “I’m Drowning and Don’t Know How to Begin: 26 Invitations for Exploration in Equine Assisted Services for Working with Children and Teens” is just so good!  You can get it on amazon!


We look forward to witnessing the many meaningful layers you’re building into your practice.  Thank you for doing your part to make this world a better place.




NL Trainers are at the Top of Amazon’s Best Sellers List today!

NL Trainers are at the Top of Amazon’s Best Sellers List today!

If you’re checking out the best new releases in Child Psychology on Amazon today, you may recognize some familiar names. Three of our brilliant and beloved colleagues who teach sections within the NL Intensive have just released books that are at the very top of the list!


#1 New Release on Amazon in Child Psychology

I’m Drowning and Don’t Know How to Begin: 26 Invitations for Exploration in Equine Assisted Services for Working with Children and Teens by Rebecca J. Hubbard, MS, LMFT and Reccia Jobe. 


Reccia and Rebecca teach a section in the NL Intensive called “Hidden in Plain Sight:  The Signs and Symptoms of Dissociation.”




#2 New Release on Amazon in Child Psychology

Raising Kids With Big, Baffling Behaviors: Brain-body-sensory Strategies That Really Work  by Robyn Gobbel with a foreword by Bonnie Badenoch, PhD.


While Robyn is not an NL trainer, she is a highly respected colleague of ours.  She  teaches a section of the NL Intensive called “Playfulness is the Treatment.”





When you register for the NL Intensive you’ll get to learn from all three of these amazing professionals.. If you haven’t registered yet, join us today – AND let us know what you think of these books!



What Really Matters for Good Therapy?

What Really Matters for Good Therapy?

While it can cause plenty of frustration (for both professionals, researchers, and clients alike), we find time and again that the benefits of therapy are not due to specific techniques learned or specific modalities used – they are due, in fact, to the quality of the person who is the therapist (or coach, or other practitioner).

Reactions to the NYT Magazine’s Take on Therapy

Just a couple of days ago, the New York Times Magazine released an article on the state of therapy in our country today. The journalist overtly shares her frustration with the simple fact that therapy and its outcomes are difficult to research quantitatively. 

In fact, in multiple meta-analyses of research done over the years it has been repeatedly found that therapy helps many, and most therapeutic approaches help equally well. There aren’t really any “perfect” interventions or models. Nothing stands out in terms of what, clinically, we do.

So what DOES matter in good healing work?

Ultimately, it is the skills of the practitioner that make all the difference. 

Not the skills needed to implement a protocol, but to foster healing connection. 

The ability to connect, to empathize, to respond well to conflict, to remind the client (both in thinking and feeling) that they are not alone in their challenges. 

This is what it means when we say the relationship is the vehicle for change. (You can also find a webinar on this subject here.) 

This is why ALL of our trainings are (sometimes annoyingly) low on technique and formula, and high on personal development, self awareness, and the practice of the ART of connection. 

We, as therapists, coaches, and healers of all kinds, are not trying to fix a problem (task), we are attempting, moment to moment, to see our clients, to hear our clients, to feel our clients – so that they have an experience of not being alone (connection). 

To be with, not to fix

Life can be challenging, for everyone. It is not our job to fix that, it IS our job to BE WITH our clients in a way that eases the burden. 

This is what The Natural Lifemanship Institute attempts to foster in each and every one of our students. 

We work to cultivate the skillset to be a positive and therapeutic relationship for change. 

Because as it turns out, this is what really matters. 

Join us

Something we believe deeply at Natural Lifemanship is that this journey requires community. If you are a therapist looking for a supportive community of colleagues who are learning from each other and evolving every day, we invite you to join us. Learn more about NL Membership

Just Released: Integrating Horses into Healing – edited by Cheryl Meola

Just Released: Integrating Horses into Healing – edited by Cheryl Meola

We are beyond thrilled to share an amazing new resource for the field edited by Cheryl Meola. We had the honor of contributing severals chapters to this book. When she approached us about contributing chapters, Cheryl said she wanted this book to be a resource for people newly entering the field of equine-assisted services. We were asked to write in a “newbie”-friendly way. That said, we believe this book is equally valuable for seasoned professionals and for those new to the field.

You can purchase Integrating Horses into Healing now on Amazon!

Here is a list of the book’s chapters with the titles we contributed in blue:

    1. Natural therapeutic aspects of horses by Cheryl Meola and Malaika King Albrecht
    2. The evolution of equine-assisted services (EAS): horses are good for people by Lorrie Renker, Octavia Brown and Pebbles Turbeville
    3. Horse Speak and Partnership by Sharon Wilsie and Laura Wilsie
    4. Relational Equine-Partnered Counseling (REPC) by Hallie Sheade
    5. An in-depth approach to relational work with equines: Natural Lifemanship by Bettina Shultz-Jobe and Kathleen Choe
    6. Breathing into relationships: the HERD Institute approach to equine-facilitated psychotherapy by Veronica Lac
    7. Side-to-side astride: the benefits and challenges of equine mounted work in trauma processing by Susanne Haseman
    8. Blended therapy modalities in equine-assisted psychotherapy: integrating equine-engaged internal family systems (EE-IFS) and equine-connected eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EC-EMDR) by Jenn Pagone and Kathleen Choe
    9. Medical therapy (OT, PT, SLP) enhanced with hippotherapy by Joann Benjamin, Ruth Dismuke-Blakely and Karen Gardner
    10. The Equus Effect: a road to regulation through equine-assisted learning by Jane Strong, David Sonatore and Elizabeth E. Lloyd-Richardson
    11. Serving those who served…and still serve by Tara Mahoney
    12. Beyond mind and body: spiritual connections in equine-assisted services by Kathleen Choe and Laura McFarland
    13. Be the Horse’s Advocate by C. Mike Tomlinson
    14. Enhancing the horses voice: incorporating Horse Speak into psychotherapy by Susanne Haseman, Sharon Wilsie and Laura Wilsie
    15. Exploring socio-emotional and cognitive development in horses by Tim Jobe, Tanner Jobe and Rebecca J. Hubbard
    16. Not just horsing around: an equine professional’s guiding principles by Malaika King Albrecht
    17. The role of the equine professional in equine-assisted services by Tim Jobe, Tanner Jobe and Reccia Jobe
    18. Heart centered horsemanship: the horse trainer’s perspective in EAS by Stacey Carter
    19. A holistic perspective: My transformative journey through Natural Lifemanship by Sarah Willeman Doran
    20. Are we there yet? The ongoing journey of healing for the healers by Kathleen Choe
    21. Interventions and strategies toward mental health and wellbeing for professionals by Aviva Vincent and Joanna Robson
    22. Starting or restarting an equine-assisted services organization: Don’t put the cart before the horse by Nancy Paschall
    23. The key to a successful non-profit board by John Matthew Kundtz
    24. How do you know it works: Evaluating equine-assisted service programs by Maureen MacNamara
    25. Bridging research and practice in equine-assisted services by Kimberly I. Tumlin
    26. Conclusions and future directions

Each chapter in this book is contributed by an expert in the field and provides an overview of the topic plus concrete examples and helpful resources. We are so proud to have been a part of this effort and cannot recommend this book strongly enough!

Get your copy of Integrating Horses Into Healing today!

Psst…when you order the book through the links in this article, we earn a small affiliate commission. This transparency is important to us, but since we contributed to the book, you know we recommend it whole-heartedly!


Horses & Humans Research

Horses & Humans Research

This past August I attended the 2022 HHRF research conference – a conference about horses and human research. I joined roughly 60 other people in our field for one and one half days of presentations on some of the latest research in the field.

If you are not familiar with HHRF, it is the Horses and Humans Research Foundation. Its mission: “Through Sustained Investment In Rigorous Research, HHRF Serves As A Catalyst To Advance Global Knowledge Of Horse-Human Interactions And Their Impact On The Health And Wellness Of People And Horses.” The conference was attended by a fairly equal mix of researchers and practitioners, including some who represent both roles, as well as HHRF Board members, volunteers and industry leaders.

The presentations and panel discussion at the end opened up many fruitful conversations about the state of research in the field and where we go from here. I’d like to share a few of my impressions followed by the Natural Lifemanship Institute’s (NLI) research goals, moving forward.

Major Takeaways:

  • The value of employing mixed methods to better understand complex phenomena (horse-human interactions)
  • The imperative of adopting common terminology and the need for sufficient ways to distinguish between different approaches to intervention through EAS so that findings can be discussed in terms of program components
  • The need for more research examining the mechanisms of change in different EAS interventions (therapeutic riding, psychotherapy incorporating horses, etc.)
  • The relative plethora of research examining the impact of EAS on individuals with disabilities and on veterans with PTSD, and the need for studies that broaden the populations of interest to include children and adults undergoing mental health treatment for complex trauma

Beyond Rating Scales: Objective Physiological Measures are Increasingly Employed in EA Research

A highlight of the conference, for me, was the number of investigations that examined biobehavioral and/or psychophysiological measures of human and equine well-being and stress.

Several of the studies sampled the horse’s and/or human’s cortisol, oxytocin and heart rate variability (HRV), for example.  Some examined the efficacy of EAS interventions in terms of human outcomes while simultaneously taking the horse’s wellbeing and stress response into consideration. This is a very encouraging movement in the field and while there is still much to be understood, many of the methods presented were both feasible and reliable, and can be used with both horses and humans.

Others presented research on the perceived benefits and impact of EA services on the humans who participate in such services. Studies of this nature abound in this field and rely mostly on rating scales where the participants themselves and/or close others rate the participant on variables of interest (e.g., anxiety, depression, mindfulness skills) by completing questionnaires or interviews. These are typically pre-post designs that compare the data collected before, during and after the EAS intervention to observe change.

Yet other studies utilize behavioral observation protocols to document observable behaviors of the human and/or horse participants within and outside of EA sessions. These focus on behaviors that can be seen and counted. Specific behaviors are watched for, counted over a period of time or at specific intervals, and sometimes rated in terms of intensity. Scores may then be generated in terms of frequency, duration, and intensity of behaviors and these scores may be compared at different points in time to detect change.

Triangulation of Data & Breaking Things Down

The general consensus is that each approach has its strengths and limitations, and that, ideally, research projects should aim to employ mixed methods wherever possible to collect both subjective and objective data collected in quantitative and qualitative ways. Triangulation of data, which means taking into consideration multiple sources of data, generally provides researchers a more comprehensive picture of what they are seeking to understand.

In my experience with research and especially program evaluation, I feel it’s important to emphasize the need to break things down. We tend to want to demonstrate the effectiveness of interventions as a whole without taking the pains to understand and test their component parts. We always get the question, “Does psychotherapy incorporating horses work?” when we still need to understand how it works, under what conditions, and for whom. It’s important to devote our attention to understanding the mechanisms of change, meaning, what occurs in an intervention that produces its effects or lack thereof? What specifically serves as a catalyst of change, what other factors support those catalysts, and what factors may constrain them?

The Key: Carefully Selecting Mixed Methods

Furthermore, as many of the researchers at this conference pointed out, there are things we wish to measure (for example, stress) that are considered latent variables and cannot be measured directly. They must be measured indirectly by measuring observable concrete variables that occur when the variable of interest is considered to be present. In the case of stress, several things can be measured that point to stress, such as increased heart rate and decreased heart rate variability, increased cortisol, decreased oxytocin, and, of course, the presence of behaviors and/or affects associated with stress. The more valid and reliable sources of data that point to the same thing, the more confidence we can have in our findings and interpretations. This underscores, again, the need for carefully selected mixed methods in our field.

At the Natural Lifemanship Institute, we are strong proponents of research in the field. We base our approach on the science-based understanding of how relationships and relational interactions shape our individual lives across the lifespan. Because relationships matter so much to our development and our well-being as a species, our founders made it their work to figure out what qualities of relationships and relational interactions lead to the greatest well-being for both humans and horses in their relationships. This pursuit is principle based so that it may be individualized. What contributes to well-being in any horse-human dyad is dynamic and dependent on what each party needs and experiences moment to moment. Well-being in relationships requires a dance of attunement. This heuristic applies equally to horse-human relationships and relationships between humans and any species, for that matter.

The phenomena of an individual’s subjective experience of intra- and interpersonal relationships has historically been viewed as a psychological matter and studied within the field of psychology.  However, increasingly, the biological sciences have contributed to our understanding that this phenomenon is inextricably linked to our bodies. Our experience of relationships is not strictly psychological; it doesn’t exist solely in our minds. It occupies our brains and nervous systems – and encompasses that which occurs biologically within us and between us.

The biological sciences underscore the influence that individual bodies and their behaviors (both explicit and tacit) have on the bodies and thus the felt experiences of each other. This interpersonal influence makes relationship more than a context or a field in which two individuals co-exist and have discrete psychological experiences; it is more like a shared body, where a third being (the relationship itself) emerges and loops back to each partner, affecting each in potentially healing or damaging ways. There is me, there is you, and there is us. We seek to understand and be responsive to all three. From a research perspective, to observe, describe, and understand these complex phenomena, a translational approach is needed. We must cross disciplines and come together with our respective lenses to undertake productive inquiry.

What’s Next

There is much work to do, still, with respect to research in this field, AND it appears we are on the right track. Thanks greatly to HHRF and similar initiatives worldwide, researchers and practitioners from a variety of approaches and disciplines are joining forces to better understand what we intuitively know to be true: That while it is surely the case that “the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man [sic]”, the relationship is actually more multidirectional; we believe that the inside of a horse is good for the inside of a person, and the inside of a person can be very good for the inside of a horse, as well.

Look for more to come from Natural Lifemanship in this regard. We are dedicated to promoting research that explores horse and human interactions, the effects we have on one another’s positive development and well being, and to understanding the component parts of healing and well-being in our relationships.

We aim to support our community in their research and program evaluation endeavors. Please leave a comment below and let us know what you need.