In the United States, there are currently no regulations requiring certifications for using horses as therapy animals, explained Lisa Moad of Seven Oaks Farm Miniature Therapy Horses in Ohio. The farm specializes in training handlers and trainers to deliver high-quality therapy services. Therapy horses often visit hospitals, nursing homes and schools to deliver therapeutic interactions traditionally offered by therapy dogs.
“After doing a couple of visits many years ago, we realized it was going to take a certain type of training for a horse to be comfortable in the situation,” she said. “I wanted my horses to be well trained, and I wanted people to be able to have an extremely safe visit and enjoy the moment. So, we developed a training program for handlers and horses.”
When Carrie Brady of Possibilities Farm brings new minis into her New York herd, she uses the evaluation criteria developed by certification organizations as a guideline to developing her own training.
“I've used the criteria because it is a good guide, then I bring that into my own process to develop my mini's skills,” she said.
While mini therapy horses do not need certification, equine service animals, like their canine counterparts, must meet strict training and certification requirements. Service animals are potty trained, taught to retrieve dropped items, provide mobility assistance and more, and they must meet the requirements outlined for service animals by U.S. federal law.
Like any horse that travels or interacts with the public ,it’s important to have the proper insurance policies, liability releases and horse health certificates in line with state guidelines.
In this line of work, it’s very important that the horse bonds with the handler than might be so with show or recreational horses. Following a training process that establishes a relationship with the horse is as important as the behaviors on a certification exam.
It is advised if you have an interest in working with miniature therapy horses that you volunteer at a facility with an exceptional training program and safety record to learn more.