“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

And be just as thorny….


Okay –  I’ll admit I added that last part to Juliet’s musings. She was obviously too lovestruck to think about thorns.


But seriously, names may be, well, nominal, but they do carry meaning and the way they are used can be consequential in both intended and unintended ways.


Here at the Natural Lifemanship Institute, we have been contemplating, discussing and discerning our response to the terminology debate initiated by the consensus document.* 


*Not sure what the “consensus document” is? We summarized and discussed the article in our blog published on April 16th, 2021. You can also find a link to the original article there.


As promised, we are ready to share our response and how we arrived at the choices we are making with respect to how we talk about what we do, and what we teach.


If you’re not familiar with the context for this discussion, please read our blog published April 16th, first. Keep reading for a summary of the recommendations in a nutshell. 


The Consensus Document’s Recommendations in a Nutshell


  1. Equine-assisted Services is the optimal unifying term when referring to two or more services. It is too imprecise to be used to describe one program or distinct type of service. Equine-assisted services include:
    1. Therapy services. Therapy is conducted by licensed professional therapists in any of these fields: counseling, occupational therapy, physical therapy, psychotherapy, and speech-language pathology. Therapists should always use therapy-first language (e.g., physical therapy using equine movement, psychotherapy incorporating horses, occupational therapy in equine environments) when referring to their services.
    2. Equine-assisted learning is a subcategory of EA services inclusive of three types of non-therapy services conducted by qualified individuals. Recommended terminology refers to the context for learning: Equine-assisted learning in education, equine assisted learning in organizations, and equine-assisted learning in personal development.
    3. Horsemanship includes four types of non-therapy services delivered by qualified individuals. Recommended terminology refers to the particular sport or horsemanship activity: Adaptive equestrian sport, adaptive riding or therapeutic riding, driving, and interactive vaulting.
  2. The working group recommended discontinuing the use of imprecise, inaccurate, or misleading terminology, including: equine therapy, equine-assisted activities and therapies, equine-assisted therapy, equestrian therapy, hippotherapist, hippotherapy clinic or program, horse therapy, horseback riding therapy, and therapy riding.

See this illustration for the consensus document recommendations at-a-glance.


Our Response to the Recommendations


Our team at the Natural Lifemanship Institute first wishes to acknowledge those whose considerable efforts and participation in a lengthy consensus-building process culminated in the consensus document. Theirs was a laborious and much needed contribution to the field of human services incorporating horses. We couldn’t agree more with the need for precise and accurate terminology in our field, as suggested by the title of our aforementioned blog article summarizing the document. We agree with many of the recommendations that resulted from the project. We also have a somewhat different perspective on what makes terminology usage in our field problematic and what choices in terminology could be made going forward.


For those who prefer that we cut to the chase, we’ll first share our preferred terminology for services using the Natural Lifemanship (NL) process and for the professionals who provide those services. Next, we’ll share a little bit about our perspective on the subject of terminology in our field and our rationale for making the choices we are making in light of the consensus document.


What terms are we changing or adopting, in a nutshell? 


We are adopting the use of an umbrella term (TI-EAS) plus two other unifying terms (TI-EAT and TI-EAL) to distinguish categories of services. The image below depicts the relationship between the umbrella term, the unifying terms, and the specific term (TF-EAP) that represents the work of our founders and many of our students.


Definition of Terms


Trauma-Informed Equine Assisted Services (TI-EAS) – umbrella term for two or more Natural Lifemanship driven services that fall under the categories of therapy or learning (see below).


Trauma-Informed Equine Assisted Therapy (TI-EAT) is a unifying term for multiple kinds of therapy provided by qualified, licensed professionals. This includes mental health therapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, among others. Trauma-Focused Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (TF-EAP) is one type of service included in the TI-EAT “bucket”. TF-EAP may only be used by licensed mental health professionals trained in Natural Lifemanship. We always recommend that in communicating with clients or potential clients, therapists should be even MORE specific about the work they do within their specializations.


Trauma-Informed Equine Assisted Learning (TI-EAL) is a unifying term referring to learning, personal growth, and wellness services employing Natural Lifemanship. This includes life coaching, energy work, education, and yoga instruction, to name a few examples. This also may include some of the types of work presented in the consensus document under the category of “Horsemanship”, for example, Therapeutic or Adaptive Riding.While many of our students enhance their therapeutic or adaptive riding programs through their learning with us, adaptive riding for those with diverse needs is not our specialization.


Equine Professionals


  • The consensus paper did not address the role of the Equine Professional (EP). However, we feel it is critical to address the scope of practice, expertise, and the role of equine professionals in EA Services. Equine Professionals are an integral part of the success of Equine Assisted Services – however, being an EP alone does NOT prepare one to deliver equine-assisted services, which requires professional preparation in one of the human services.  An equine professional who wishes to offer equine-assisted services must either partner with a qualified provider of a human service or they must gain the required professional preparation themselves.  While our trainings are very heavy on the relationship between horse and human, we hope to further address the specific development of an Equine Professional in future writing and programming.

How to communicate with clients using our new terminology


Is NL “Trauma Informed”  or “Trauma Focused”, or both?


The Natural Lifemanship Institute teaches a principle-based  and process-oriented approach to helping humans in partnership with horses. This principle-based approach is informed by the relational sciences, attachment theory, and the neurobiology of trauma and healthy brain development. 


We describe the NL process as being “trauma informed” because regardless of how or where it is applied (i.e., in therapy or in learning contexts), Natural Lifemanship is based on (informed by) the science of trauma and attachment. Trauma-informed approaches such as Natural Lifemanship may be employed for non therapeutic purposes. Somebody who provides Trauma Informed Equine Assisted Learning (TI-EAL) is not attempting to treat trauma therapeutically. However, they may apply their knowledge of the science of trauma to offer learning and growth experiences that are developmentally sensitive and that emphasize connection.


The Natural Lifemanship approach to incorporating horses in mental health treatment, or equine-assisted psychotherapy, is “trauma-focused”. It is informed by trauma/relational sciences and its focus may be on treating the effects of trauma on mental health. Mental health therapists (psychotherapists, counselors, social workers, LMFTs, etc.) who partner with horses based on the Natural Lifemanship approach are trained in Trauma-Focused Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (TF-EAP).


Why the changes?


The term TF-EAP is appropriate for some, but not all, people who practice NL. We have needed a more inclusive way to distinguish between EA services provided by licensed therapy professionals and those outside of the realm of therapy.


Since 2010, TF-EAP has been used somewhat synonymously with Natural Lifemanship. Reflecting the expertise of our founders, TF-EAP also applied to the vast majority of the mental health professionals and their equine professional partners who initially sought out our trainings. However, now, a dozen years later, the NL approach is employed by a wide variety of professionals who partner with horses to serve their clients, including occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, and physical therapists.  


Trauma-Informed Equine Assisted Therapy (TI-EAT) is a more inclusive term pertaining to the set of our students who are licensed to practice some sort of therapy. Similarly,Trauma-Informed Equine-Assisted Learning (TI-EAL) pertains to our students who are qualified to offer transformative growth and learning experiences, such as coaching and team building. 


One thing that has not changed is that we have always maintained that one’s scope of practice dictates what any of our practitioners may claim to do once they have been trained or certified in Natural Lifemanship. 


We agree with the consensus document that precision is important, that the appropriate use of unifying terms facilitates better precision when talking about specific services, and that specific services need always lead with one’s scope of practice. However we disagree with the suggestion that “equine-assisted” should never be used when referring to any kind of therapy. There is a place for keeping “equine-assisted” so long as it is not used inappropriately. One place we feel that equine assisted should continue to be used is in web-based material, which is found through queries in search engines. Without a recognizable, well-known, unifying term such as Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, many consumers and others engaged in keyword online searches would be unable to find the sites and the content that they are searching for. 


We also feel that it is helpful to consumers and other stakeholders to compare and distinguish different types of services by situating them within a larger context. For example, when comparing two different services one might want to know, does this service belong to the category of therapies incorporating horses or does this service belong to the category of learning and growth experiences incorporating horses? 


We feel the use of unifying terms such as Equine-Assisted Therapies (EAT) and Equine-Assisted Learning (EAL) greatly helps consumers, researchers, and other stakeholders  find the services they seek and make educated distinctions between them. The terms are recognizable and parsimonious for the purposes of searching for and comparing services. When seeking potential providers, the unifying terms make it possible for consumers to narrow their search. It is then incumbent upon the providers to specify what, exactly, they provide based on their professional licensure and expertise.


From now on, when we use TI-EAT we are referring to multiple types of therapy in which providers may partner with horses, based on the NL approach, to deliver treatment. This means that somebody trained or certified in TI-EAT must be a licensed therapist and must have undertaken a certain level of professional development with Natural Lifemanship. TI-EAT includes occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech and other kinds of therapy, while the more specific term, TF-EAP, is a subtype of TI-EAT and is limited to psychotherapists and other licensed mental health clinicians.


TI-EAL continues to represent the types of learning and growth experiential services incorporating horses using the NL approach. Again, practitioners who claim to be doing TI-EAL must be trained or certified with Natural Lifemanship. 




In conclusion, we hope that our response leaves the reader with a clear understanding of how Natural Lifemanship uses terms, why we support the consensus document’s recommendations for leading with scope of practice, and also why we feel that precise and accurate terminology is necessary but not necessarily sufficient when there is considerable ambiguity around scope of practice in our field. We need to hold ourselves accountable to a higher level of professionalism in this regard.


To reiterate our position with respect to the consensus document recommendations, we are in agreement with the proposed terms relevant to therapy and learning, with one exception: we propose using equine-assisted therapy (EAT) as a unifying term for the types of therapy identified in the therapy category. Just like the unifying terms, equine-assisted services (EAS) and equine-assisted learning (EAL), equine-assisted therapy is not to be used singularly to label a specific kind of therapy. It is simply a more precise unifying term for the category of services in which qualified therapy professionals incorporate horses within their scopes of practice. 


Finally, we feel strongly that there is a need to explicitly address the role of the equine professional within equine-assisted services. It is important to define their scope of practice and the kinds of knowledge, skills, experience, and specific training or preparation they must have to effectively co-facilitate therapy and learning in partnership with horses. Look for more from us in the future on this topic. In the meantime, if you are interested in learning more about the role of the equine professional in Natural Lifemanship-based services, we offer a short course, which you may purchase, here.


About Natural Lifemanship


Natural Lifemanship (NL) is a developmentally-informed, trauma-, and attachment-focused approach to developing and strengthening the human and mammalian capacity to connect. Our TI-EAT and TI-EAL trainings and certifications teach a process for building relationships with horses and integrating horses into equine-assisted services in ways that promote healthy connection for both human and horse. Through intensive training and mentorship, the Natural Lifemanship Institute’s certification program prepares professionals to apply the NL approach into one’s scope of practice. Natural Lifemanship emphasizes relational and developmentally-informed principles rather than techniques, and offers personalized support and mentorship at every stage of the certification process.


Interested in learning with us?


Registration for the next Fundamentals of Natural Lifemanship training opens January 12th!  This is our most entry level training and is required for all certification paths. We hope you can join us!