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Animal-assisted therapy is increasingly popular today. Just as its name suggests, it involves animals for emotional support, service assistance, and other emotional or behavioral needs. There are many different types of animals used in this, but the most common are dogs, cats, and even horses! In fact, equine-based therapy is effective in helping posture, emotional support, and mental health. Therefore, the growing popularity of equine therapy requires more equine therapists. These are the best tips on how to start an equine therapy program to build this unique small business.
The first step to run any sort of therapeutic program is to decide who your target audience is and what type of therapy you will offer. This can range from equine-assisted learning or equine-assisted psychotherapy for disabled or post-traumatic veterans or hippotherapy for children with special needs. Equine-assisted learning and psychotherapy promote life skills to better understand and mediate clients’ emotional, behavioral, social, and cognitive ways. Hippotherapy, on the other hand, is when the horse’s movements affect the physical response of the rider. This includes the posture, coordination, and strength to improve any neuromuscular or motor issues. Of course, these are just some examples, and different types of clients use whichever form of equine therapy best suits them.
Next, you need to pick a location for your operation. Naturally, you’ll need a barn and pasture to allow your horses to graze and exercise. However, all buildings must also be handicap accessible. This will allow every client to use your facilities and ensures your business is a therapeutic sanctuary. Not to mention, you’ll want to fence off, cover or keep riding areas indoors to eliminate any potential risks. Another important part of your location is to include proper signage. A custom outdoor farm and ranch sign will adopt your personal style and alert visitors to your location.
Of course, you also need horses and equipment. Find horses who won’t startle easily. Like a therapy dog, these horses will remain steady even with sudden gestures or noises. Their gaits, or movements, should also vary to allow beginning riders to ride with ease. Equipment includes saddles, saddle pads, bridles, riding helmets, mounting blocks, ramps, and—potentially—automated lifts to allow riders to climb into the saddle.
Professional staff is essential for this type of business. The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH) is the largest certification organization for therapeutic riding. Staff can receive Registered, Advanced, or Master certifications depending on the desired level. You can also use volunteer help along with your staff. They can serve as horse spotters, set-up crew, or other hands-on roles. While volunteers don’t need certification, they should have a working knowledge of horsemanship and be able to work with specific clientele.
Lastly, you’ll need to register your business for legality and insurance. Consider qualifying for non-profit status to allow for donations and tax-exemption. Still, you may need to register with local and state ordinances to operate this type of business. Since you’re working with large animals as well as various clients, insurance is a must. Use an insurance policy that covers liability and injury to people and animals.
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