Equine Therapist Careers: Salary Information & Job Description

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Learn about an equine therapist's job description, salary and education/training requirements. Get straight talk about the pros and cons of an equine therapist's career.
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Pros and Cons of an Equine Therapist Career

Equine therapists are professionals trained to work with horses and help disabled individuals work and bond with horses as a means of therapy. Read the following pros and cons of this career to help you decide if being an equine therapist is the right choice for you.

Pros of Being an Equine Therapist
Offers opportunities to help physically, mentally and emotionally handicapped patients**
Career provides physical activity and fitness**
Career offers variety in duties (coordinating training, working with horses, counseling patients)*
Some employers do not require a college degree (though they may require certification)*
Mental health professionals can add equine therapy to their expertise by enrolling in a short graduate certificate program (just 15 hours)****

Cons of Being an Equine Therapist
Some jobs may require master's degrees*
Work may require spending time outside in various weather conditions (heat, damp)*
Employers typically require certification or licensure*
Work may involve being around unpleasant substances and odors (barns and stables)***
Low salary (salary for head therapeutic riding instructors was lower than the national average as of May 2014)*****

Sources: *Online job postings, **Tarleton State University, ***Waubonsee Community College, ****Texas Tech University, *****PayScale.com.

Career Info

Equine-assisted therapy provides mental, physical and emotional therapy to patients with learning, physical and behavioral difficulties. It's also used to help treat other conditions, such as cerebral palsy, autism and multiple sclerosis, as well as to help cancer patients deal with the fear and challenges they face as both patients and survivors. Equine therapy can help improve a patient's self-awareness, self-confidence and discipline.

Job Description and Duties

Equine therapists are professionals who work with horses and help patients and customers accept horses as a means of therapy and comfort. They encourage participants to communicate with horses and teach them simple tasks using eye contact and body language. The therapists teach riding lessons to patients and participants. Equine therapists schedule therapy sessions, workshops and basic horse training.

In addition to working with the horses, equine therapists perform the role of trained counselors. They may assess new students, determine those students' needs and implement therapy and training sessions based on those needs. Other duties may include scheduling functions, fundraisers and certification and training programs. They work with the patients on a regular basis, from the time they join the facility through their discharge. Because of the disabilities exhibited by many of the patients, therapists must possess patience, compassion and understanding.

Job Prospects and Salary

According to a PayScale.com report, most head therapeutic riding instructors earned wages that ranged from around $22,000 to $52,000, with bonuses, tips and overtime pay included in these figures. This report, dated July 2015, was based on a small data group.

What Are the Requirements?

Education and Training Requirements

To become an equine therapist, you must have at least a bachelor's degree in an animal science or counseling-related field, although some employers require a master's degree. Some schools offer graduate certificate programs for individuals who have graduate degrees in either animal science or a counseling-related field. In addition to coursework, students may participate in seminars and workshops to obtain hands-on training working with the horses. Course topics may include therapeutic riding instruction, equine studies, Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International standards and contraindications, companion animals, evaluation of horses and general horsemanship.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Requirements for equine therapist careers tend to vary by employer, although formal training and work experience appear to be the most common requirements. Most employers also require applicants to have necessary certifications. The following is a sampling of open job postings from May 2012:

  • A Texas equine therapy facility is seeking an experienced and detail-oriented individual to fill a full-time position as therapeutic riding instructor and education coordinator. Duties include scheduling and teaching riding lessons as well as coordinating workshops, training courses and specialty certification. Applicant must have PATH Intl. advanced or master certification and experience managing workshops and special events. Applicant must also be proficient with Microsoft Windows suite. Employees receive a competitive wage and benefit package.
  • A residential equine center in Utah is seeking an experienced equine therapist to fill a full-time position in its Mona facility. Applicant must have at least a bachelor's degree and 4 years of experience in this field. Working under a clinical director or executive, candidate will perform orientation on new students, provide psychosocial assessment on students, plan a course of therapy based on patient needs, and provide weekly and regular wilderness therapy sessions. The therapist will also plan patient discharge and provide a discharge summary on patients after they've departed.
  • A national child help organization in California is looking for an experienced wilderness/equine therapist to work in its facility. Candidate must have a master's degree in social work or a related field, along with at least 1 year of experience working with children in a residential treatment program. Licensed interns who have at least at least 3 years of related experience will be considered for this position. Candidates must also have a clean driving record, must pass a criminal background check and should possess Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) certifications. Experience with hiking, fishing, boating, camping and other outdoor activities is a plus for this hands-on position. Applicants must enjoy the outdoors and working with horses and children.

Top Skills for Equine Therapists

In addition to completing a formal training program and obtaining certification, candidates should possess the following skills and qualities for careers as equine therapists:

  • High level of organization
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills
  • Compassion
  • Interest in working with children and adolescents
  • Ability to work with and be comfortable around horses

How to Make Your Skills Stand Out

Obtain Certifications

Equine therapists can obtain certification through EAGALA, a non-profit organization that promotes equine-assisted therapy. To obtain certification, applicants must complete the first of a 2-part EAGALA training module and submit a personal development portfolio. Upon acceptance of the portfolio, candidates then complete the second training module. EAGALA also offers advanced certification programs, which may be required for employment as an equine therapist. Candidates can also obtain certifications through PATH Intl., which offers therapeutic riding instructors three levels of certification: registered, advanced and master.

Other Careers to Consider

In spite of your love for horses and your desire to help others, you may still be uncertain if this is the right career choice for you. There are other careers you may consider that offer better wages, better career outlooks or just less education and training requirements. Here are a couple of possibilities worth considering.

Animal Trainer

If you enjoy working with animals but aren't sure if equine-assisted therapy is what you're looking for, you may want to consider a career as an animal trainer. Being an animal trainer can give you the opportunity to work around various animals. Most animal trainers learn through on-the-job training. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of animal care and service workers was predicted to grow 23% between 2010 and 2020. The BLS also reported that these workers earned a mean annual wage of around $31,000 as of May 2011.

Rehabilitation Counselor

If animals aren't really your thing but helping others is, then you might consider becoming a rehabilitation counselor. Rehabilitation counselors help emotionally and physically disabled individuals learn to live independently. To become a rehabilitation counselor, you'll most likely have to have a master's degree. Some employers may hire you with a bachelor's degree, but master's degree programs are more common. You may also be required to obtain licensure and certifications as a counselor. According to the BLS, rehabilitation counselors were predicted to see an employment growth of 28% between 2010 and 2020. As of May 2011, these workers earned near $38,000 annually, as reported by the BLS.

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