Equine assisted therapy is one of the most effective healing processes giving the rider confidence and enjoyment while correcting disabilities. The gait of the horse mimics the gait of the human imprinting the movement from horse to rider. Without a sound horse the therapy is useless and can be detrimental. If the horse is lame it will imprint a limp, if the horse irritable it can be dangerous to the horse leader, the sidewalkers that keep the rider safe and the rider. There are no national guidelines for the care of a therapy horse. Each program has their own horse care procedures. One of the primary concerns in equine assisted therapy is the well-being of the herd. Some programs have a regular veterinary schedule, others use Eastern healing techniques and some combine both. The most important factor is that horses are fed properly, the stalls are clean, pastures are free from debris, the horses are groomed regularly and get proper exercise.
Age has no bearing on what makes a good therapy horse. Many programs use rescue horses or retired older horses. It is the disposition not the age that is taken into consideration when making a choice. Some horses provide therapy well into their early thirties this is not only because they have a sound constitution, but have been cared for properly. Therapy horses should be used every other day in an ideal situation. Humans around horse should not make any sudden moves, use a quite tone in their voices, and have a calm demeanor.
Equine assisted therapy is stressful. Horses are fleet animals they have survived for millennia by fleeing from prey. Wild cats and mountain lions attack by jumping on their backs and wolves approach them from the side. In equine assisted therapy the rider is usually not balanced making it difficult for the horse to move freely. There are usually sidewalkers on either side of the horse which is threatening to the animal. The leader must give the horse its head for a proper stride yet have total control. If a horse leader chokes up on the lead rope it hinders the free movement of the horse.
Warning signs if there is a problem is a change in temperament. Horses that are normal even tempered will try to bite, especially if they are touched where they hurt. A horse that is lethargic is another warning sign. Of course, a horse off feed definitely is having a problem. Favoring a leg is an indicator of hoof or leg problems. Horse care providers must check horses first thing in the morning and when they come back into their stalls in the evening.
Therapy horses are invaluable and only a few of the many can do the job. It is up to the humans to be sure they are kept healthy and relaxed.