Equine therapy takes many forms including physiotherapy, chiropractic, osteopathy, massage and sports massage.
Therapists working within this field are known as paraprofessionals and currently there is no legal requirement to hold a recognised qualification to practice. Vet few veterinary practices employ their own therapists, so most work alone as self employed.
While there is no legal requirement to hold a recognised qualification, It is an offence for anybody (other than the owner of the animal) to treat an animal without the express permission of the animal’s registered vet. It is highly unlikely that a veterinary surgeon would refer to or recommend a therapist who does not hold a recognised and accredited qualification as the vet will have no idea if the therapist is competent enough to carry out the treatment and without the right qualifications, the therapist is unlikely to have gotten adequate insurance.
There have been proposals from The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons that anybody working within animal health should be qualified and registered to protect the therapist, the client and the animal, as well as maintaining high standards and ensuring therapists have adequate insurance. They are currently working with DEFRA to have these proposals written into law.
A veterinary physiotherapist, veterinary chiropractor or animal osteopath should have completed training to degree level in their subject and most will not carry out any procedures without first speaking to, and gaining permission from the animal’s vet.
Animal massage is slightly different in that there are no restrictions or expectations and veterinary permission is not required. This is currently a somewhat controversial area as incorrect massage could cause harm and many people operating as equine message therapists have had inadequate training or very little training to gain the qualification they hold.
So, what qualifications do you need for equine therapy then?
If you are planning to make equine physiotherapy, or equine sports massage a long term career you will need to undertake a training course that results in a qualification that is accredited and recognised. This will help you to join a professional register, which in turn will help with gaining insurance. There are many more opportunities open to therapists who holds an accredited qualification and as changes in law come in, the horse owner and their veterinary surgeon can be reassured that the therapist is fully qualified to carry out the treatment without risk to the animal.
First of all, most courses that are available will expect a trainee to hold a qualification in some form of human therapy. Equine therapy courses do not teach the basics of musculoskeletal manipulation. They take existing knowledge and apply it to a horses (or any other animal’s) body, so if you do not already hold such a qualification, gaining one will be your first step.
The second step is to find a course that is right for you. You will need to look for a diploma course or equivalent of at least Level 3 or upwards. Most courses specialise in a specific form of equine therapy such as equine Physiotherapy, Equine Sports Massage or Equine Massage. It is also vitally important the course you choose is externally accredited as this will ensure you gain access to a professional register or organisation.
If you are already hold a qualification, then there are opportunities to improve your qualification or to move into a different form of therapy, for example, if you hold an equine massage qualification, you can further that by converting to an equine sports massage qualification.
Which equine massage course is best?
It is not a question of who is best, but rather which course is best for you. When it comes to equine sports massage, ATSL offer the highest level of qualification in the UK as well as being highly respected and well known within equine circles.
The Level 4 Diploma in Equine Sports Massage is externally accredited by RQF, AHPR and RAMP. It is the entry standard for membership of The Equine Sports Massage Association and guarantees graduates direct entry to the AHPR.
The ESMA was established to help ensure that customers receive services from a fully trained and qualified equine masseur. So completing these courses and becoming a member of the ESMA will help provide reassurance to your customers of your expertise and experience.
ATSL also offer Level 4 Equine Sports Massage Diploma units which will help to boost your current qualification to a level 4, or enable you to complete the course over time.
For information on the ATSL course and other courses that are available, please see this article on Taranet.