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The Ethics of Hippotherapy
 By Winniefield Park   •   13th Oct 2014   •   3,088 views   •   0 comments
The Ethics of Hippotherapy

Long before horse assisted therapy became mainstream, I was involved with helping give hippotherapy to a little girl who had suffered severely crippling injuries in a car accident. At the time, we knew nothing about riding for the disabled. We were told that riding was good exercise for the wheelchair-bound child, and when she was lifted onto the back of a pony, she grinned for the duration of the ride. We had no special equipment, and no training. Hopefully, we did more good than harm. Hippotherapy has been around since the time of the Greeks, but in the last few decades, there's been an increasing interest in horse assisted therapy programs for everything from alcoholism to speech therapy.

Horses help humans. Long ago, they helped us move faster and further carrying a heavier load. When mechanical engines took over, horses gave us healthy recreation. And more recently, in addition to helping us with mobility and physical therapy, they are helping us deal with emotional problems. But is helping us overcome our problems fair to the horse? Some people don't think so. There is some controversy about the cost to the horse's own mental health. One study of horses used for therapy for mental health and physical therapy found their stress hormones actually decreased following the therapy session. This is opposite to what the researcher assumed would happen. The only exceptions were a new horse, another who was a cribber and one who had a rider with a severe mental health problem.

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The findings of one study however, aren't indicative of what may happen in all therapy programs and that has many people concerned about the ethics of using horses for therapy. Some call it exploitation. They believe that asking a horse to help heal humans, especially those with mental health issues, may be going beyond what would be deemed as 'use'. There is a concern for the safety of the horse in some situations, and that the horse is being used as a tool, rather than treated as a sentient being.

Over the last decade, more attention has been paid to the maintenance of therapy horses and national standards are being formed or are in place in several countries. In North America, several guidelines have been suggested such as those formed by The National Association for Equine Facilitated Wellness that asks members to "agree to abide by their "Code of Ethics for the protection of participants (human and equine), the public, and the profession" and " take steps to ensure the culture and environment at the barns in which their equine partners reside are congruent with this Code." So, more attention is being paid to the stress providing therapy puts on horses, and creating an atmosphere that is healthy for their physical needs.

Clearly, the use of horses to help humans will continue as more therapists discover new ways to provide treat their patients. After all, "There's something, about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man." But, we need to ensure that we are good for both the inside, and outside of the horse.

What's your opinion of equine assisted therapy?

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ref: https://www.avma.org/News/JAVMANews/Pages/040915o.aspx
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