I'm becoming very wary of the term 'Equine Assisted' which is creeping into the new management language around horses as the new buzz phrase. I think there is a danger in using horses to teach people and putting the emphasis on the humans, that means that the horses come second. We all know that horses are great teachers and sometimes their needs have to be sacrificed for the greater good - hence there are horses teaching new mounted police and army personnel how to ride, carrying people who find riding fantastic therapy for mental and physical conditions and helping people overcome emotional trauma. However, we must never think that they are volunteers even though they seem to have an instinctive and spiritual recognition of people's vulnerability. They do seem to have the power to heal. Nevertheless, their needs should be protected too and the label 'Equine Assisted' should not be used to persuade outsiders that everything is soft, cuddly and nice for the horses where it isn't. Poeple need to be aware of the style of horsemanship that lies behind the label -bad traditional, tough natural, willing partnerships, and so on.... People can still be very mean to horses that are apparently providing learning opportunities and great solace.
I have been asked to write a protocol for the ponies that are going to be used at a new charity in Devon where the aim is to match the needs of the ponies and those of the people who will be involved with them. It would be easy to think well, these are Dartmoor Hill ponies, as long as we've saved them from being shot or sent for meat, we've done our bit, they'll be okay. When using ponies it's important that we aren't just using ponies - they should have rights too.
Most 'pony constitutions' consist of a list of requirements which fulfill their basic physical needs although some talk about turn out and the company of other horses. It's hard to specify just how you protect a pony from being 'peopled out'! It's a bit like working for the courts where the Government concentrated on counting how many chairs were available in the waiting room rather than the quality of justice meted out. My idea of what ponies should put up with is a lot different from other people's and probably yours. For example, I don't think people should run and shout around horses but that's probably because I don't like people running and shouting around me. However, it is also based on experience - with horses, energy in equals energy out and why would you want to wind a horse up? If people are shouting or speaking very quickly, how does a horse get his 'voice' heard?