RQF Registered equine therapy courses in Devon

Equine massage

The quality of equine therapy qualifications

Being qualified in equine massage is not always what it seems.

As a practitioner / therapist, how would you feel to find out that some of your practices and techniques were incorrect? How would you feel as horse owner who noticed their practitioner was carrying out a technique incorrectly, potentially risking injury to themselves or to the horse?

Just for fun, we recently ran a Facebook post in which we asked “Can you spot the deliberate mistake?” with an accompanying photograph of an equine massage therapist performing a Hindlimb Retraction whilst standing behind the horse. Clearly, the mistake was that the therapist was in a dangerous position where they could quite likely receive a nasty kick to the face!

The results of the post were quite divisive, which came as a bit of a shock!

Hindlimb retraction done wrong

How to recognise an accredited qualification

When studying for an equine massage qualification, it is not easy for the student to know if what they are being taught is the best way, the correct way or the very latest technique according to research. Equally, it is not easy for a horse owner to know if their therapist / practitioner is working correctly, especially if the therapist has been recommended and holds a qualification.


There are many equine therapy courses offering certification or qualification. Some of these courses are available as online learning which contain no hands-on practice. Others do offer hands on practice but have not had their techniques or courses formalised by OFQUAL. This can lead to therapists using incorrect techniques, poor clinical reasoning and a wide variety of practice standards.

To confuse matters further – some non-regulated courses describe their qualification as “Level 3” or similar. The level in this case refers to the number of hours the course will take, rather than the standard. Unless the course is regulated and accredited by OFQUAL even a ‘Level 3’ qualification is not necessarily a formal qualification.

Our advice to both trainee therapists and to horse owners would be to examine the qualification carefully beforehand.

You will need to check if the qualification is externally accredited, externally examined, and recognised by an OFQUAL approved awarding organisation. The qualification your therapist is holding would also need to be listed on the regulated qualifications network. If the qualification does not match this criteria, then there is a real risk that the trainee may not be trained to a suitable standard or have the correct manual skills.


Why would a qualification not be approved?

It is worth considering that not being OFQUAL approved does not necessarily mean the qualification the therapist holds is of a lesser standard as there are many good courses, run by seasoned experts providing sound advice. It just means that the qualification has not been externally examined and approved by other experts and professionals.

There are several reasons why a good course may not become regulated, but one of the most common reasons is due to the regulating organisation being entitled to take over the intellectual property (the content) of the course. Not surprisingly, trainers who develop their own equine courses are reluctant to give away their work.

Unfortunately though, if they do not get their course regulated, it remains what is described as a “customised provision” which will only ever be recognised as a training course and not a recognised, formal qualification. This can have implications for the level of insurance a therapist can obtain and that in turn can impact on the client.

For the benefit of our students

At ATSL, we developed a customised provision (The Cert. ESM) but it became clear that our students really needed a recognised, accredited qualification. It was going to benefit our graduates in their career and also help reassure their clients.

In 2017 we made the difficult decision to accredit our course with Open Awards to achieve a regulated qualification framework listing and we gave away our intellectual property so that our students could achieve a full OFQUAL regulated qualification.

Our Cert. ESM course has now evolved into The Open Awards Level 4 Diploma in Equine Sports Massage – equivalent to first year university level.

Open Awards

Why we consider our course to be the best

Every training facility will claim their course is the best – of course, and at ATSL, we also believe our Level 4 Diploma in Equine Massage Therapy course is the best.

Because our course is externally examined and OFQUAL regulated, we have to ensure our teaching follows effective, safe and correct practice and that our course stays current with the latest research.  Animal welfare and professional practice standards are deeply embedded in the delivery of our training.

To further embed our quality credentials, ATSL are very proud that our training meets the Day One Competencies and academic standards of the Animal Health Professions Register so our graduates are entitled to direct entry to the register which is designed to maintain high practice standards for regulated courses.

One notable advantage to taking the L4 ESM Diploma with ATSL is that our course is the only way to achieve membership of the elite Equine Sports Massage Association which is highly regarded within the equine industry and renowned for the quality of its members, all of whom have met the rigorous exam standards we undertake.

Did you spot the deliberate mistake?

Some of our Facebook followers did spot the mistake, but there were plenty who didn’t or who got the answer wrong. Perhaps the real mistake would be to not to check the credentials of your chosen equine massage course, or not to check the credentials of your equine massage therapist.

Here is an simple check list a trainee can use to avoid making mistakes:

  • What does the qualification course cover?
  • Is the qualification regulated and accredited?
  • Is it recognised and sanctioned by veterinary professionals?
  • Does the qualification enable full insurance cover?

Here is a check list a horse owner can use to avoid making mistakes:

  • Is your therapist fully qualified with a regulated and accredited qualification?
  • Are they included in any professional registers?
  • Does your therapist appear confident and competent?
  • Does your horse look relaxed and comfortable during treatment?
  • Has the treatment been discussed and approved by a veterinarian?

These may be uncomfortable questions to ask, but in the long run, they may just avoid a nasty kick to the face.


  • Equine Sports Massage Association
  • Animal Health Professions Register
  • Open Awards
  • RAMP