Equine-Facilitated Learning is one of the fastest growing disciplines in the equine industry. The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.) has become the "international voice" for providing the professional standards for people working in the Equine-Facilitated Learning discipline.
The following definition for Equine-Facilitated Learning has been copied from the PATH Intl. website:
Equine-Facilitated Learning, also known as EFL, is an experiential approach to teaching and learning, with the help of horses for the purpose of promoting human growth and development. In equine-facilitated experiential learning, participants interact with the environment, with one another, with their instructors and with the animals. Goals of the interaction may be increased knowledge on a wide range of topics and/or self-discovery by participants. Instructors may be credentialed teachers, licensed therapists, equine specialists, horse trainers, veterinarians, PATH Intl.-credentialed Therapeutic Riding Instructors, 4H advisors or other individuals who have training in the processes and procedures of EFL. Effective EFL instructors adhere to PATH Intl. standards and EFMHA guidelines so that the learning occurs with strict attention to the physical, mental, psychological and spiritual safety of all humans and horses involved.
In EFL, participants come to the learning without labels. They do not have (or do not share) a psychological or medical diagnosis, as they would in Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy or Hippotherapy. Instead, participants come to an EFL session with a specific learning goal. That goal might include personal growth through reflection or meditation; socio-emotional progress; overcoming academic challenges; enhancement of intuition; improvement in horse-handling and riding skills; knowledge about horses; and/or all of the above. The learning may take place in a single session or workshop, or over a longer period, via multiple sessions. Some EFL experiences occur over years.
The attitude and training of instructors is a critical factor in EFL. Through carefully planned interaction with willing equine co-facilitators, human instructors assist the learners in reaching their goals. While instructors may take notes on the learning, respond to participant journals, meet with public school teachers, parents or the participants themselves to monitor the learning, they do not do “charting,” as they would following Hippotherapy or EFP sessions.
In EFL, instructors often work in teams of at least two so that they can attend to both the horses and humans in each session. A two-person team, the instructor and the equine specialist, would consider themselves a “triad,” with the horse a full-fledged member of the team. They may work “two-on-one” with a learner, or with a small group. Observers in an EFL session participate actively in the learning; they typically have prescribed roles as attentive, respectful witnesses, ready to share perceptions of their own or others’ experiences, if asked. Successful EFL sessions are “therapeutic” for human participants, but they are not “therapy.” While EFL participants commonly experience improvements in mental and physical health, sessions rarely qualify for insurance reimbursement because they do not stem from diagnoses.
Examples of EFL include journaling; autobiographical writing; examination of the hero’s journey as it applies to the learner’s life; exploration of one’s life goals; discovery of energy fields surrounding horses and humans; reading comprehension enhancement; art; study of horse and human anatomy; self-discovery through inquiry; trail riding for observation enhancement and partnering with a horse; even preparation for showing horses. In every case, participants learn about themselves, about the horses, and build skills they carry from an EFL session into their lives.
The keys to EFL are that instructors, regardless of their backgrounds and experience outside of EFL, have sufficient training in equine-facilitated learning to understand and honor the power of the work they do--and that horses serve as co-facilitators of the learning, not as tools. EFL instructors work with horses. They do not “use” them.