The voluntary register of equine-assisted therapy and learning providers is sue to launch this year. H&H speaks to providers and those behind the project to find out its benefits
THE creation of a register of practitioners offering equine-assisted therapy (EAT) and learning is aimed at providing governance and credibility across the industry.
A working party has been formed with organisations including HorseBack UK, the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) and Hartpury College to create the voluntary Human Equine Interaction Register (HEIR), due to launch later this year. The register will be under the umbrella of the Federation of Horses in Education and Therapy International (HETI), a not-for-profit organisation that facilitates collaborations between organisations and individuals offering equine-assisted activities and therapies.
Emma Hutchison, co-founder of charity HorseBack UK – which works with veterans suffering from life-changing injuries or mental illness – told H&H there is a lack of governance of the EAT industry.
“Around three years ago, I approached organisations that had an interest in EAT and it was agreed there needs to be some sort of governance to make sure people have the right insurance, qualifications, that their premises are safe and the horses’ welfare is considered. There are lots of people offering EAT who don’t have these things,” she said.
“People assume because you’re dealing with vulnerable people, there will be governance, but there isn’t.”
RDA chief executive Ed Bracher is chairing the HEIR working party and told H&H the register is something the RDA has wanted for a long time.
“We don’t want anyone to see this as an attempt by RDA or any other organisation to try to control the sector,” he said. “Part of the reason for doing this with HETI is to enforce the independent nature – it’s about us all coming together for the collective good.
“We want to provide a place where people such as clients, service commissioners or funders can get information and reassurance that the organisation offering EAT is credible and works to some defined standards.”
Mr Bracher added that currently, anyone can buy a horse and offer equine therapy.
“That’s bad for the industry, but more importantly it’s bad for the clients, some of whom could be vulnerable people. There also needs to be more attention paid to ensuring animal welfare is considered; I’m not suggesting anyone is damaging horses, but we want to make sure there are protocols in place,” he said.
“We hope HEIR will provide a forum for organisations to work together to have a louder voice across the industry – for example, in government where there is a need for us to be able to influence. We’re a diverse industry and we don’t want to change that, but trying to find a way we can work together to promote what we’re all doing has got to be of value.”
The working group has received funding from the Sir Peter O’Sullevan Charitable Trust to appoint a project manager and plans to hold an industry-wide consultation during the summer, before launching the register later in the year.
“It is key the industry knows what we’re doing and people see this as a benefit, not a threat,” said Mr Bracher.
“Our plan is to have people sign up to a code of practice, then we hope to develop that into a more rigorous accreditation process and give people the option of either being a member that abides by the code, or becoming an accredited member There is also potential benefit for the academic side and we would all love to see in due course some kind of more formal qualification route for aspects of what we’re doing.”
World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers told H&H the charity supports strengthening governance and welfare protocols in the industry.
“It would be a very positive development for practitioners to sign up to a set of principles and, in due course, to provide evidence supporting how they abide by these principles,” he said.
“This will not only help protect the welfare of therapy equines, but also reassure anyone using these invaluable services that they are working ethically and with the horse’s best interest at heart.”
A spokesman for HETI told H&H the register is the first step to ensuring for the first time there will be a “level of transparency” regarding the qualifications of equine assisted activity practitioners and the environment in which they are provided.
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