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.

What are the Natural Lifemanship Connection Kits and are they for me?

What are the Natural Lifemanship Connection Kits and are they for me?

You may have heard of the Natural Lifemanship Connection Kits and you may be wondering what, exactly, they are, what purpose they serve, and for whom.


We created the Connection Kits to fill a need in our community of equine-assisted practitioners – a need that emerged again and again during the course of consultations. As is often the case with useful tools, our Connection Kits have been discovered by many folks outside of the EAS community as well, including school counselors, therapists who work in a more traditional setting, and even clients! 


Built with a purpose

Our co-founder, Bettina Shultz-Jobe, found herself describing the ways she incorporates rhythm to build regulation and relationship within and between humans and horses during sessions. She would refer to various tools she would use for that purpose as well as concrete activities, and she would always explain the science that supports the activities and, in fact, everything we do in NL. 


She came to realize that one of the biggest ways that we could support our community is by packaging these tools and resources into ready-made kits accompanied by instructional courses that explain how and why we use the tools to promote regulation, healing, growth, and connection for our clients and our horses, whether we are working inside or outdoors.


So, we created the kits! We incorporated our knowledge of science, healthy brain development, and the power of the horse-human relationship with easy-to-use tools that help organize, integrate, and regulate the brain and body and build deeper connections. We call these tools, the Natural Lifemanship Connection Kits – Tools Designed to Enhance Your Equine-Assisted Practice.


These kits provide you with the same tools our expert professionals use at Natural Lifemanship, and hours of guided education including video demonstrations with our beloved horses, to ensure the tools are used safely and effectively. Most tools can be used in a traditional office setting, outside in nature, and with or without horses.


Who uses the Connection Kits? How do I know if they are for me?


If you can answer “yes” to any of the following questions, then the Connection Kits are for you!


Are you:

  • A professional who provides equine-assisted services?
  • A parent of school-aged children?
  • A teacher?
  • A mental health professional?
  • A helping professional who works with people who have experienced trauma?
  • Someone who works with youth?
  • Someone who works with seniors?
  • Interested in learning how to regulate your own nervous system and how to help others regulate theirs?
  • Interested in understanding the science behind the techniques?


Do you:

  • Appreciate having tools and concrete activities ready and available to use when working with others?
  • Appreciate the convenience of video instruction so you can learn on your own schedule?
  • Value the ability to earn CE credits (from NBCC)?
  • Know somebody who fits any of the descriptions listed here and want to give them an absolutely amazing, one-of-a-kind holiday gift – the kind of gift that keeps on giving?


If this sounds familiar, then NL’s Connection Kits are for you.


Which Kit is Right for Me?

Really, each kit has something unique to offer. It may be helpful to hear a little about how some of our customers have used the kits and for what purposes.


Essential Connection Kit

The Essential Connection Kits are the most inclusive, containing many different tools and activities to regulate each region of the brain and to promote connection. This kit comes with 16 hours of instructional videos delivered in a course that offers 11.5 CE Credits. 


The Essential Connection Kit is transportable, too! It comes neatly organized and packaged in a tote that you can take with you and use in an office, a school, and even outside. 


This kit has been most popular with the equine-assisted practitioners (both therapists and coaches) who use our model. It has also been very popular with school counselors. We’ve had several districts buy one for each of their counselors to use with their students. Some counselors have also shared their kits and their knowledge of how to use them with the teachers at their schools. One school counselor reported that she has used the kit for her therapy groups at school, teaching regulation skills throughout the year. 


The Essential Connection Kit activities can fit very easily into a Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) program if teachers and counselors choose to use it this way, as it promotes knowledge and skills related to how the brain works and bottom-up regulation. 


Drum Connection Kit

The Drum Connection Kit comes with a Remo Bahia Buffalo Drum and nearly 5 hours of video instruction (and 4.5 CE credits) demonstrating ways to incorporate drumming to regulate the brain. 


If all you want is the drum, we encourage you to head on over to Remo to purchase it. However, if you want the drum AND the online course with CE credits, you’ll want to buy it from us. Lots of folks have purchased this kit, including equine professionals and coaches. If you want to incorporate drumming into your work, the NL Drum Connection Kit makes it super simple.


Rhythm Bell Connection Kit

The Rhythm Bell Connection Kit is, surprisingly, the number one kit that is purchased by clients because they love them so much. 


When therapists and other practitioners use the Rhythm Bells in sessions, clients fall in love with them because they are such a great regulation tool. They also really help people come into connection. For this reason, we’ve used them a lot in mounted work and have created multiple ways that these handcrafted bells can attach to the client’s clothing and the horse’s mane or saddle. 


Another surprising fact is how many of our therapists like to use the bells in an office setting. We even have one client who wears these while walking during telehealth sessions. The Rhythm Bell course offers 2.5 CE credits.


Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Connection Kit

Finally, the Do-It-Yourself Connection Kit is also a great option, especially if you already have a collection of tools similar to the ones we package. The DIY Connection Kit gives you ALL of the downloadable instructions and resources you need to build your own Essential Kit. It includes the course and all the videos. It also includes the Drum Connection Kit course. It does not include any of the physical items that are demonstrated, but it gives you the information you need to purchase your own. 


Because it includes both the Essential and the Drum Kit courses, the DIY Kit offers a total of 16 CE credits. It also is available to NL Members at a very steep discount.


How much do our customers love these kits? We’ll let them tell you in their own words.


The drum kit absolutely drives home the concept of bottom up regulation. After this course, I feel like I can confidently take these activities into my work with clients. Thank you! 

– Ashley M Stavig


I love using the drum and bell kits with clients who have trauma. These are fundamental tools that give clients a ‘language’ (sound, movement) that makes sense of their world.  These tools help me see, without the pressure of words, the client’s trauma.  Essential for trauma work!! 

– Jan Stump, MSW PEACE Ranch


I was able to understand the science behind the tools in each box [of the Essential Connection Kit]. I was able to see how to practically use the tools in a therapeutic setting. 

– Christi Lundby, LPC-S, LCDC


Practicing walking with the bell and riding with the bell on me and my horse gave me an understanding of how my body is responding that is beyond anything I have ever felt before.  It is not the regulation that was most important; it is the integration.  Amazing. 

– Marilee Donovan Dual Certified in NL


The Drum Connection Kit Course was both educational and fun.  It was not only full of pertinent information, but it was easy to follow with demonstrations that I can use right away in my program. I loved learning how the progression of activities using the drum achieved full brain engagement.  It was easy to follow and fun to watch. 

– Claudia Alesi, Certified Equine Assisted Coach


It [essential connection kits] was all valuable.  I appreciated the raccoon circle because I have a family that is struggling and I believe this will help show how important it is to connect and work together. 

– Anonymous Customer


I have been a therapist for over ten years. Natural Lifemanship is the best therapeutic model that I have integrated into my practice. NL has provided me with the science and practical instruction to immediately improve my skills as a therapist with an equine partner or without. A sound principle is a sound principle resonates with me in all client/therapist relationships. 

– Christi Lundby, LPC-S, LCDC


I do not generally respond to music and drumming is sometimes annoying, so I was not prepared to be amazed by the benefits of the bells.  I wear a bell each morning when I go to turn the horses out and often I wear a bell when cleaning the barn and feeding.  It is a mindfulness practice above all others.  I had to work initially to have a rhythm but once found it is comforting and rewarding.  Riding my horse with the bells generates another level of connection and we have a great connection already.  Now when the horses hear me coming with the bell on they often come up and touch the bell on my clothing to say good morning.  I would recommend this to any NL professional to deepen their own understanding of their body and of connection and integration. 

– Marilee Donovan, Dual Certified in NL


I loved everything about the [Essential Connection Kit] course, very helpful and that it’s not just for psychologists but for teachers, parents, foster parents,  equine professionals,  etc. 

– Anonymous Customer


Natural Lifemanship never ceases to amaze me with their dedication to incorporating both the art and science of connection, and the way this leads to healing and growth! 

– Melissa McMullen, LSW, Equine Therapist at One Heart Stables with the Christian Children’s Home of Ohio


I am just beginning to learn about Natural Lifemanship, so everything [in the Essential Connection Kit] was valuable to me.  It was very educational.  I really love the demonstrations.  They are easy to follow and I can’t wait to use them in my program. 

– Claudia Alesi, Certified Equine Assisted Coach


We LOVE our Connection Kits and are so delighted that our community loves them, too. We love hearing about the creative ways people are putting these kits to use, and of course how they are working out. 


If you already own a Connection Kit, please join our Connection Kit forum in our community so you can share ideas and resources with other Connection Kit owners.


Have questions about the Connection Kits? Leave them below and our team will get back with you.


Certifications in Equine Assisted Services: Comparing Apples to Oranges

Certifications in Equine Assisted Services: Comparing Apples to Oranges

By Bettina Shultz-Jobe (with a ton of help from Kate Naylor and Laura McFarland!)


This data is accurate, to the very best of our knowledge as of 09/07/2022. As we are made aware of changes or get better information, we will update this page.


Interested in becoming certified to offer Equine Assisted Services?


When it comes to getting certified in Equine Assisted Services, you have a LOT of choices. All of the programs offer something unique and the decision about which certification to pursue is a very personal (and, at times, daunting) one.  As the field grows, there are more and more really wonderful options for learning.  Unfortunately, it is not easy to compare the different programs side-by-side so you can make a decision on which one is truly best for you.  It’s a bit like. . . comparing apples to oranges, if you will. 

It is our priority that you find, and create, the path that is right for you. That may mean you choose one of Natural Lifemanship’s certification paths, or it may mean you choose one of the other programs in this field. Our goal with this comparison is not to sway you to one program or another, but to give you a snapshot of what’s out there. Of course we’re biased, but customers regularly ask us for this comparison. In this light, we’ve taken a deep look at six major EAS certification programs that exist in the United States today and compared and contrasted each program so that you can examine the options and make an informed decision.  

There is certainly a lot of subjectivity when it comes to choosing the program that is right for you, but our intention with this blog was to stick to the facts.  It is our hope that this detailed look at where each program excels and who benefits most from each of the programs will free you up to listen to your body, mind, and soul as you make an embodied and integrated decision.      


How did we choose which EAS certification programs to include?


Above all, we chose organizations that we regularly hear our students talking about. 

Additionally, most of the organizations we chose have been around for a long time.  We did choose a couple up and coming organizations because we’ve heard great things about their offerings from our students and are familiar with and have great respect for their founders.  Five of the six organizations we chose offer an official certification. It was our intention to include the most reputable certifications available on the market.   

This list is definitely not exhaustive.  This research took a lot of time, and truth be told, choosing which organizations to include was a somewhat challenging process because there are a number of great options available in our field today.  Please keep in mind that there are many fabulous places to learn and people to learn from that do not offer certifications.     


So Then, Why Certification?


While certification is not legally required to offer Equine Assisted Services to the public, a certification process is by far more impactful and informative than a single training. Most certifications require a certain amount of learning, paired with a number of practice hours and mentoring that will take your practice to the next level, and support you in offering services ethically. 

Take a look at our previous blog, Ten Things You Need to Know When Choosing an Equine Assisted Therapy and Learning Certification, to get a better idea of some of the qualities of a good certification process, to help you make – the more subjective part of – your decision.  

But not all certification paths are for everyone. In the charts below we have outlined information that can be gathered from each organization’s website.  We have done our best to give you accurate information and will make changes as new or different information is made available to us.   

Below you will find language from each organization’s websites on how they identify their mission/vision and general approach:

PATH Intl. (Professional Association for Therapeutic Horsemanship Intl): “PATH Intl. accredits centers and certifies professionals so participants can experience the best and safest services in the EAS industry. [PATH Intl. works] to ensure universal recognition of professional equine-assisted services and the transformative impacts that enrich lives.”

AHCB (American Hippotherapy Certification Board):  “The American Hippotherapy Certification Board (AHCB) endorses the concept of voluntary, periodic certification by examination for all professionals who use hippotherapy in their practice”

EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association): “The Eagala Model provides an innovative solution that provides a unique space for an emotionally safe, hands-on experience for clients. With real-time feedback, clients are able to reach issues where traditional talk-based therapies leave off.”

University of Denver: ”The Equine-Assisted Mental Health Practitioner Certificate program is open to mental health professionals and graduate students who want to enhance their clinical work through incorporating equine interactions in psychotherapy (equine-assisted therapy).”

The HERD Institute: “[The HERD Institute works] to create a global community of students and practitioners for Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy and Learning, committed to furthering the work of the predecessors in our field.”

The Natural Lifemanship Institute: NL envisions a world where connection is seen and felt in everything we do. We help people and animals form relationships to overcome stress and trauma through both the art and science of interpersonal neurobiology and attachment.


Here are the certifications offered through these 6 major programs…


Equine Assisted Therapy and Learning Certification Programs


PATH Intl.


Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning (ESMHL) in partnership with a therapist, educator, leadership specialist or personal development coach

*Certified Therapeutic Riding  Instructor (CTRI, Advanced, Master)

*Therapeutic Driving Instructor

*Interactive Vaulting Instructor




AHCB Hippotherapy Certification




Mental Health Professional Certification

Equine Specialist Certification

Other Professional Certification


University of Denver


Equine Assisted Mental Health Practitioner Certificate 

(a one time process; not technically a certification)


Herd Institute


Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy Certification

Equine Facilitated Learning – Level 1

Equine Facilitated Learning – Level 2

As you can see, none of the programs are exactly alike. What each one offers varies quite a bit depending on the specific population they serve and their own sense of what is necessary and valuable for those wanting to enter the field. Nonetheless, we’ve tried to distill down the distinguishing aspects.  We hope it is helpful! 

*Moving forward in this article we will only refer to the Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning (ESMHL) certification for PATH Intl. 

Who is eligible for these programs?

PATH Intl.


You must be 21 or older to certify as an ESMHL. No education level is required to be the equine specialist in partnership with a therapist, educator, leadership specialist, or personal development coach.

The ESMHL certification is also valuable for psychotherapists, counselors and learning specialists to understand how to incorporate equines into their practice.




Licensed or certified to practice as a:

Physical therapist,

physical therapist assistant,

occupational therapist,

occupational therapist assistant,

or speech and language pathologist

*one year of full time or the equivalent (2,000 hours) experience in this field is required




*Mental Health Professionals 

*Equine Professionals 

*must be partnered

A third option is available for other students or professionals (must be a third partner to MH and ES)


University of Denver


Mental Health Professionals 

Mental Health Graduate Students


Herd Institute


Mental Health professionals

Life coaches


Organizational Leaders 


Human Resource Professionals


Natural Lifemanship Institute


Mental Health professionals

Life Coaches


Equine Professionals

Non-MH Therapists like PT, OT, etc.

Alternative Healing Practitioners

Anyone interested in trauma-informed practice (medical professionals, corporate, HR, etc)

The difference from program to program on who is eligible for training depends on program philosophy as well as training content – while some programs prefer to specialize in only training mental health professionals or other licensed therapists, others have expanded to include any professional who is equipped to work with people in a healing or learning format, and their training content reflects these decisions. 

Most programs seek candidates who are already a helping or learning professional and are qualified to counsel. Then the training offered is in how to incorporate horses into these services.  Note that there are only a couple programs who seek to certify equine professionals to co-facilitate with a practitioner. 

When searching for a program, it can be helpful to first find your profession in the list above – any program that doesn’t list your profession is not well equipped to prepare you for the work, and any program claiming to train a variety of practitioners likely offers quite a bit of substance in their teaching, working to create competence no matter your background. 

How are their trainings and certification requirements offered?

PATH Intl.


In-person + online exam




Blended (online and in person) + online exam




In-person (a short webinar is watched prior to in-person training)


University of Denver


Blended (online and in person)


Herd Institute


Blended (online and in person)


Natural Lifemanship Institute


Blended (online and in person)

Fully Online

Learning to offer quality equine assisted services requires a blend of theory and practice, in the chart above you can see that each program has its own way of making learning possible for a variety of candidates. Online programs offer flexibility and time to digest learning, and in-person learning gives participants time to practice and experience the process.  

As you can see, Natural Lifemanship has the only fully online certification program at this time, but it’s important to know there is still a significant amount of hands-on practice that occurs. The difference is it is done at home with horses you have access to personally, and is supported by video consultations and review so you never have to leave home. 

When searching for a program, consider your personal learning style, and how you might best digest the information presented at a training.

What are the general requirements for each certification process?

PATH Intl.



Membership required

In-person workshop

Horsemanship skills test

Portfolio, which includes 80 total clock hours of relevant education and experience comprised of: 20 clock hours of education in equine behavior and management, 60 hours of active participation and experience in equine-assisted services (EAS) at a PATH Intl. center and/or under the supervision of a PATH Intl. Certified Professional, two professional references, CPR/First Aid for adults and children, and an online exam




Introduction to Equine Skills Online Course

American Hippotherapy Association (AHA) Level I and II equine skills and treatment principle courses (in-person)

25 hours of one-on-one direct patient treatment

Must be experienced and comfortable with horses and can ride safely and independently at the walk and trot. 

Certification Exam




Pre-req webinar

Fundamentals training (5 days in-person) 


Professional Portfolio



University of Denver


Online course (10 months)

3 Residential Workshops 

Supervised Client Work

50 hours additional training outside of DU


Herd Institute


For EFP: 

Online modules

Live webinars

In-person practicums 


personal therapy 

20 hours Equine education

Clinical practice

For each EFL level:

Online modules

In-person intensive


Practice hours (L2 only)


Natural Lifemanship Institute


Fundamentals training (8 weeks online, 36 CE’s )

Intensive Training (15 weeks online, 62 CE’s)

Optional Practicums (5 days in-person)

At least 28 hours of group and individual consultation and mentoring

Video Submissions and Feedback

60 Client Hours/Practice


There is wide variation in what each program offers in terms of learning, and requires in terms of certification – it is very worthwhile to spend some time exploring the ins and outs of these requirements, and to consider your current skill set so you can decide which program will best prepare you.  

Ultimately, the requirements reflect the philosophies of each program – you can see the question “What is necessary for someone to offer EAS competently and ethically?” being addressed in each column.  Every program has its own definition of what it takes to do this work well. Which definition you align with is a very personal choice.  

Whether you would like a short training process that offers tools for your toolbox, or a longer process that offers theory and individual mentorship and support while encouraging personal development – you will ultimately be the one deciding!

How long does it take to get certified?

Here is the general length of time it takes from beginning to certified, keeping in mind that for programs requiring practice hours and mentoring, timing can vary.

PATH Intl.


Varies widely depending on experience

ESMHL practice hours




Varies widely depending on experience




5 days plus exam and portfolio


University of Denver


10 months, on scheduled dates


Herd Institute


EFP: minimum 1 year, semi-self paced

EFL-L1,2: minimum 3 months each


Natural Lifemanship Institute


Varies widely; 6 months -2 years, semi-self paced

This chart and the one above it go hand-in-hand.  A more in-depth training process will take more time.  Embodiment takes time.  Again, only you can know how much time you have to give to this process, and ultimately, what you want to get out of it.  For some, a quick certification is preferred, while others want a deeper learning experience – and again, prior skill set should be taken into consideration.

Who will you be learning from in each program?

PATH Intl.


PATH Intl. faculty and PATH Intl. Certified professionals









Local instructors


University of Denver


Professor Nina Eckholm Fry and guest presenters


Herd Institute


Founder Veronica Lac and Herd faculty


Natural Lifemanship Institute


Founders Tim Jobe, Bettina Shultz-Jobe as well as selection of 13 advanced certified practitioners and equine professionals

When learning something new, who you learn from makes all the difference – their own experiences, philosophy, and training background will inform the way their training unfolds. Learn about the instructors that teach each model – it is important that they have spent a good amount of time implementing services in the field, so their instruction is realistic and applicable to your needs.  

As you can see, several of the current training programs are still at least somewhat facilitated by the founders of that approach (potentially offering an undiluted presentation of information). Learning directly from the founders of any given approach is not always possible, but when it is, students benefit from the direct transmission of knowledge and experience as well as the founders’ experience teaching the material in ever-evolving ways.  

Learning from the founders while also learning from those who are certified and currently practicing the model can offer a well-rounded experience.  It is valuable to learn from and consult with more advanced professionals who have much experience learning and applying the material in their own lives and practices.  EAS can be applied in a myriad of ways depending on your scope of practice, client specialization, facilities, and horses, so it’s important to be able to choose a mentor or consultant with experience similar to yours. 

How many client hours are required in order to complete certification?

PATH Intl.


80 hours




25 hours




0 hours


University of Denver


50 hours


Herd Institute


EFP: 20 hours

EFL-L1: 0 hours

EFL-L2: 50 ‘practice’ hours


Natural Lifemanship Institute


60 hours

Clearly, there is a wide difference in client hours needed to complete each program.  Why does this matter? In most professions, classroom learning can only take you so far – this is particularly true in a field that is decidedly “experiential” or hands-on.  

Applying classroom theory and knowledge to real world situations requires practice.  It takes time to understand how a process can be applied in a variety of situations (and equine assisted services always present a variety of situations!)  A certification process requiring plenty of practice time while still under consultation or evaluation is a process that values hands-on learning and respects the responsibility we take on when serving clients.

How many hours of support and guidance will I get in professional consultation or mentorship, learning from my teachers or peers in order to complete my certification?

PATH Intl.












University of Denver


Ongoing during client hour practice (number of hours are not specified)


Herd Institute


EFP: 10 hours

EFL: 3 hours each level


Natural Lifemanship Institute


8-11 hours individual

20 hours group

We all know practice is the best way to learn something new – and correct practice is the best way to learn to apply new learning correctly.  Requiring consultation hours means that while you are practicing you have access to your instructors for case consultation and reflection.  

The more guidance you can receive as you are applying your learning, the more likely you will be applying your learning correctly, competently, and ethically.  Not only will this make you a better practitioner, but it is better for your clients as well. 

Which program offers Continuing Education credits, and how are they offered?

PATH Intl.


Yes, in-person workshops

In-person conferences

Virtual conferences

Online webinars and courses




Yes, in-person and online workshops and trainings





Yes, in-person workshops



University of Denver




Herd Institute


Yes, occasional CE’s offered online and in person


Natural Lifemanship Institute



Online and in-person workshops and trainings

Online self-paced (over 500 hours of video library access w/ membership.  Many of these offer CE’s.)

In-person and online conferences

We are all always evolving – as we learn more, see more, and understand better – our approach to healing should adjust as well.  This is where continuing education comes in.  

All health practitioners are required to continue learning throughout their professional careers because new research and an evolution of thought is always emerging.  Most certification programs will require continuing education in order to maintain certification – and some programs offer ongoing learning they themselves have developed. 

Ongoing learning that is approved for official CEUs (continuing education units) or CE hours means that the learning content has been vetted and approved by a separate educational body – indicating a base level of quality.

What is the total cost of certification?

PATH Intl.


$600 – $700 plus travel expenses +  membership costs 




Level I and Level 2 combined :  $1935 – $2135 depending on membership level 

Online Test:  $380 – $480 depending on membership level

+Travel and lodging to two in-person trainings




$2500 + travel/lodging

$95 annually membership


University of Denver


$4800  + travel and lodging for 3 residential workshops


Herd Institute


EFP: $6500 + travel and lodging for two in-person trainings 

*EFL-L1: $1500 

*EFL-L2: $1500

* + travel and lodging for one in-person training


Natural Lifemanship Institute


$3873 *for fully online (Choose Jumpstart Option and do consults with your co-facilitator)

**for blended options, prices will vary

This is probably the #1 question we are asked:  “How much does NL certification cost compared to the costs to be certified by _______ organization?”  Quite simply, it is terribly difficult to compare costs when the differences in each program are SO varied.  Since we know you are interested in offering high impact, ethical services to your clients, it’s important to consider much more than price alone.   

Just like the duration of training varies from program to program, so will the financial investment.  It is impossible to say the exact investment (except for the NL fully online track) because of all the variables present in each training program – for any blended program travel, lodging, and time away from work will be a factor, and most programs offer several tracks and levels of membership, of course, all having different costs.  As you explore the financial investment that is possible for you, consider the value of each certification process. 

Also, keep in mind that the costs associated with personalized support in the form of supervision, consultation, or mentorship are included in the costs you see in this chart for DU, The Herd Institute, and NL.  

PATH Intl. does require mentorship, but it is not included in the costs in the chart because the cost varies and the student is responsible for finding a mentor that will best meet their needs.  The Natural Lifemanship Institute has a team of carefully selected instructors and mentors with advanced training and experience applying our approach in a variety of situations. We take the guesswork out of finding a suitable mentor as several of our instructors are available to book for consultations right on our website. Personalized support is important to the process of embodied learning, so when choosing a certification program, it is worth considering how you will find the support you need.

The offerings are fairly different from program to program – consider not only what is feasible, but what kind of learning is worth your time and money, and the level of support and guidance you hope to have after online or in-person training. 

For a breakdown of the varied costs associated with NL certification,  this webinar offers a lot of insights.

What does it cost to keep my certification up to date?

PATH Intl.


$100 for membership annually + 20 CE hours every 12 months




This information is not available online.




$195 annually +

20 CE hours EAGALA approved CEs every 2 years


University of Denver


None, it is a one time certificate, not a renewable certification


Herd Institute


20 CE hours annually


Natural Lifemanship Institute


$375 annually, includes 10 online CE hours, membership, and a listing in the Professional Directory

All of the top 6 programs offer an “ongoing certification” except for the University of Denver.  DU offers a one time certificate that does not require renewal.  This may seem like a benefit, however certification renewal is a way of promoting ethics and best practices in our field.  You will find this a necessary process in any health care profession – it is vitally important  to continue the growth and development of the field, as well as protect those who receive services.

Also, when considering certification renewal fees remember to consider the costs associated with continuing education requirements.  These costs can be quite high when you consider the cost for training, travel, lodging, and valuable time away from work.  

Also consider if this fee does more than simply renew your certification.  For example, NL certification fees include membership (more on that next) and a practitioner listing so that potential clients can find you.  Most importantly, you need not spend ANY additional money to get the CE’s needed to maintain certification.  In many cases, you may even be able to count our CE courses toward others licenses or certifications you are maintaining. 

Is there a membership offered and what benefits do I get for being a member?

PATH Intl.


$70-$190 annually




Members-only resources

Free education

Online community forums

Subscription to Strides magazine




$55-$95 annually with the American Hippotherapy Association



“Find a Therapist” listing

Access to ScienceDirect Article and Journals

Members Only resources

Subscription to Hippotherapy Magazine





Monthly Support Calls


Resource Library


University of Denver


No Membership


Herd Institute


$150 annually 


Online discussion forum 

Discounted supervision

Discounts on workshops


Natural Lifemanship Institute


Not every program offers a membership option, and oftentimes membership offerings are limited.  However, a robust membership and community is incredibly important in a new, quickly evolving, and smaller field.  

NL offers a free membership as part of the certification process. We know the value — both to you and to your clients — of being lifelong learners and we want you to have access to our entire suite of tools and courses as a certification student or certified professional.   

At times, this work can be isolating – it is a unique niche within the world of mental health, therapy, growth, and learning – finding safe and structured places to connect, learn, exchange ideas, and continue growing is invaluable and will make it much more likely that you will be supported and successful in this new endeavor!

Are there advanced certifications offered if I want to deepen my learning or specialize?

PATH Intl.






Yes, advanced testing and certification is available




Yes, advanced training offered


University of Denver




Herd Institute


Coming soon


Natural Lifemanship Institute


Advanced training and certification available

While basic certification may be your greatest concern at this point, it can be helpful in the selection process to consider which programs also offer advanced training and support should you decide to pursue it.  Not all do.  After completion of basic certification, most practitioners will feel competent to begin seeing clients – however, you will likely find that clients bring different issues to sessions and being able to dive more deeply into specialized issues will only enhance your toolbox.  Programs offering advanced training and/or certification will not only support you in diving more deeply into a specialization or specific area of interest, but will also support you in more deeply understanding the model or approach itself.

*PATH Intl. does offer several certifications, but they don’t offer advanced training or certification (that we could find) in ESMHL.  Every one of these organizations offer conferences as a wonderful way to specialize and deepen your learning, even if they don’t officially offer advanced training or certification.

What is the minimum amount I can spend to begin the training process and see if a program is a good fit for me before signing up for certification?

PATH Intl.


$600 for an ESMHL 3 day workshop + travel expenses




$950 – $1050 for 3 day workshop + one day online learning +travel expenses




$2500 for Fundamentals training + travel expenses


University of Denver


$1600 for a semester + travel expenses


Herd Institute


$6,500 EFP or $1,500 EFL (or payment plan) + travel expenses


Natural Lifemanship Institute


$425 for Fundamentals – foundations track online only (30 CE credits)

For many of us, taking that first leap into training can feel daunting.  Having a lower barrier to entry can make it that much easier to explore the different options that exist and choose for yourself.  Some programs have ways to engage with their training material that is less expensive, while some require a financial commitment to the full program up front.   Each journey will look a little different, and ultimately the deciding factor will be the value of what you are receiving.


Ready to explore certification for yourself?

So, there it is, a side by side breakdown of the requirements and benefits of the certification process for each of the major training institutions based in the United States.  Of course, this information serves only as a beginning point to help you narrow down which program might best suit your needs.  

Further exploration would be beneficial to gauge the values, principles, and goals of each training program  – because ultimately, the program you certify with should feel like a professional “home”. 

When you are ready to get certified, we will be honored to join you on the journey and be your partner at every stage of your growth and exploration. Learn more about NL Certification and select the path that’s right for you. And if you’re not sure where to start, take our quiz for some guidance. We look forward to supporting your learning!

Introducing the Jobe Treatment Ratio for Equine Assisted Services

Introducing the Jobe Treatment Ratio for Equine Assisted Services

Evolving the Role of Equines 

Many of us on the Natural Lifemanship team have been working with equines for decades. We’ve spent much of that time preparing mustangs for domestic life, training horses for ranch work, and partnering with them for equine assisted services.  

Long ago, we moved away from a traditional utilitarian approach to horses, and toward a perspective that seeks to engage horses without the need for fear, domination, and control. This launched the unique approach of Natural Lifemanship (NL) that has flipped the script on how equines participate in healing services.


Understanding Equines as Sentient Partners

Natural Lifemanship developed a way of thinking about how the equine is involved in therapeutic settings that includes the equine’s unique contributions as an individual.  

Not all equines are the same, just like all people are not the same.  

This consideration, of how each participant in a session contributes to the stability or instability of that session, is necessary for providing ethical treatment.  Neither the equine, nor any facilitators, are exempt.


Get to Know the Treatment Team

Today we are sharing what we have named the Jobe Treatment Ratio —a framework for considering all the individuals in a therapeutic session, including the equine.  

The Jobe Treatment Ratio is an attempt at providing a more concrete way to conceptualize the complex fluid relational development between all those involved in a given session, and to recognize how that relationship determines the level of care the team can provide to clients. This model is still oversimplified in many ways, but hopefully provides a snapshot of the complex relational interactions that are flowing through every moment. 

For simplicity, this model assumes a session involving a licensed or certified co-facilitator, equine professional, horse, and client. These roles may differ in reality and therefore the model can be adjusted to help you conceptualize any specific situation. 

When you think about the four individuals involved, then you can start to separate, on a simplistic level, who is there to receive services (client) and who is there to provide services (facilitators).

Facilitators engage in months, if not years, of training and supervision in order to offer services to clients ethically. A client and their facilitators often, either formally or informally, arrive at a social contract of expectations for services, sometimes called an informed consent.  This agreement sets a framework for guiding the professionals in decision-making throughout the process of providing services.

Hopefully, it is clear that the equine professional and therapist are providing services and the

client is receiving. This scenario would create a 2:1 treatment ratio for a session, two individuals providing services for one.


Where Does the Horse Fit In?

Equine Assisted Services are unique – involving not only the professionals and the client, but one or more equines as well.  

So what about the horse in this scenario? On which side of this ratio does the horse fit? 

A horse is not developed in the same way humans are and does not have to commit to a social contract in order to provide or receive services. And yet they are part of this interaction. The question then becomes, are they there to provide services or receive services? 

Well, the answer is complex and fluid from individual to individual—and truly, moment to moment. As humans, we determine our ability to provide services according to the guidance of professional structures and assessments we have created and maintained as a society—as well as in assessing our own personal development. We attempt to determine the ability of equines in similar ways. The development of each horse and human will determine whether or not they are mostly providing services or mostly receiving services. As the moment and environment change, so too do the abilities of each individual involved. This is the complex nature of relational interactions. 

Each individual offering services requires a foundation for understanding the ins and outs of a session, knowing what is expected of them, and having a strong level of communication with other partners.

If the social contract is that the EP and co-facilitator are there to provide services for the client and involve the horse in that process, then it stands to reason that the horse could be part of the treatment team. Proper development of the horse’s thinking skills are necessary for him to be a valid partner on the treatment team. This is not easy, but is possible. 

It is important to ask, can this horse consent to participation? Can this horse move freely, think freely, and communicate freely?  Can this horse understand the expectations of the session?  If you can answer yes to these questions (and others), it is possible for this horse to be a partner in the treatment team.


An Ideal Ratio for Treatment

If the answers above are “yes,”  then we have the possibility of a 3:1 treatment ratio, where 3 individuals (EP, co-facilitator, and horse) are supporting and providing services for 1 client. 

Vital to the quality of services that are offered is the relational development between these three members of the treatment team.  This relationship cannot be picked up and put down at will. Conscious effort and ongoing team development are necessary.

The model below for the 3:1 ratio represents just one of an infinite number of ways this could look. If we have done significant work with EP, co-facilitator, and horse, then they can all work in unison to serve the client and you have an understanding and communication about how they are achieving this in every moment. 

Yes, we contend that equines can develop to this level. It takes intentional practice, building an equine’s ability to maintain his sensitivity and think for himself, which is only possible when we let go of outdated ideas of domination and control in human-horse interactions.

Notice in the diagram below, the quality of therapeutic or “safe” space made possible when the horse, equine professional and co-facilitator are well-developed as a team.  Maintaining connection in a well established relationship takes little energy, while building connection in a newer relationship can require much more attunement, focus, and regulation.  

In a well developed ratio of 3:1, the treatment team has significant energy free to devote to the client, rather than diverting it to support each other during a session.




When the Horse is Not a Part of the Treatment Team

We would say that it is more common that equines in these settings have not yet developed enough to easily create and sustain connection with others while maintaining their own autonomy. Therefore, they are unable to hold the same understanding as the EP and co-facilitator in a therapeutic setting.

If, as is common, the horse has not yet developed this skill set, then a closer representation would be a 2:2 treatment ratio. With a 2:2 treatment ratio, the EP and co-facilitator are having to extend themselves a bit more to provide support for the client as well as the horse in session. 

The 2:2 model below shows one way that this could look. Notice the shift in energy and focus particularly for what the Equine Professional can offer the client, as well as what the horse can offer the client.



In a Less Developed Team

Finally, if the humans in the treatment team are not well developed (either personally or relationally) we may devolve into a situation where each member believes they are having to support and offer treatment to everyone else involved. Then the situation may more closely resemble the dreaded 1:3 ratio. 

At this ratio, we are doing our clients a real disservice. Below is one way this could be represented. It is referred to as the model of the 1:3 ratio. 

Keep in mind this is one way this situation could evolve. There are many other possibilities, including if the co-facilitator is less experienced working experientially, working with horses, or working in a team. Their energies may be less predictable as well.



You can also see how the quality of the relationship between the members of the treatment team affects each member’s ability to offer support to the client. Notice how it affects the ability of the team to create a safe space for the client. The cohesiveness, personal development, and team communication present in a treatment team vastly influences the quality of services offered.


Assess Your Team

Insert your treatment team into this model and determine what your development and percentages might be. Notice which human-horse combinations put you at a 3:1 treatment ratio and which combinations put you at a 2:2 ratio. Also, consider scenarios that would put you at 1:3 and work on growing out of those. 

This should help you and your team grow together towards that ideal 3:1 ratio. Perhaps in exploring these ratios, you and your team will pinpoint a few of the areas that may need more work outside of the session. 

Also consider how things change (dramatically!) if you include more than one equine, or more than one client.  This is why, ethically, it may not make sense for a facilitator to work without an EP—or for only one or two professionals to offer services to big groups of people and/or equines.  Imagine the complex web of energy necessary for providing connection and a safe space to a whole family, group, or herd!  

Each facilitator, equine professional, equine, and client will come with their own histories, tendencies, and needs. Hopefully, the professionals also come with a clear self-awareness and understanding of their equine’s abilities and limitations so as to create an ethical therapeutic environment.

While this concept of ratios is simplified, it should make the ideas adaptable to whatever scenario you find yourself in, helping you and your team gain greater awareness of where your energy is going during a session and how you can all develop toward a ratio that better supports your clients.


Learn more in Our Upcoming Webinar

Tanner Jobe will be hosting a webinar on August 3, 2022, at 5pm CST where he explores the ratios illustrated above, and answers your questions. This is a great opportunity to dive more deeply into the concepts presented here.  Sign up here.