Summary of an article written by Cryshtal Avera
Edited by Marilee Donovan,
In July 2016, Cryshtal Avera, EAGALA Certified Equine Specialist and formerly a Parelli Professional, conducted a study to begin to determine if therapy horses experience burnout and if so, to describe its characteristics and propose some ways to avoid it. Her methodology was a survey of experts in the field – EAGALA Equine Specialists and PATH Equine Managers who belonged to their professional Facebook groups. Seventy-four experts completed her survey between July 11, 2016 and July 12, 2016. Data was collected, summarized and analyzed using www.surveymonkey.com.
The experts agreed that burnout does occur in therapy horses and identified several situations where it was more common. Symptoms of burnout were recorded as were situations which increased the likelihood of symptoms occurring. A variety of recommendations were made to minimize burnout in therapy horses.
Symptoms included: avoidance behaviors such a being hard to catch in the paddock or pasture, being unwilling to approach certain people, and exhibiting aggressive behaviors such as biting or nipping. Those who watched their horses carefully indicated that the horse made it clear that they did not want to do certain things or be with certain people. Ulcers were a late symptom of the stresses leading to burnout. These symptoms were more common in ridden therapies and were more common in therapy with the victims of domestic violence or trauma. It was hypothesized that exposure to more people (as with riding with sidewalkers) and high emotional energy in the humans contributed to burnout symptoms in the horses.
The experts surveyed recommended a variety of approaches to minimize burnout. Rest and pasture turnout with the herd, trail rides, Parelli 7 games, and T-touch have been suggested. In addition to days off, an interesting component of rest was to assure that when the horses are done with their session, they are away from contact with or even being viewed by many people. Many expressed the need to watch each horse so that it is recognized when the horse does not want to work or does not want to work with a particular client or sidewalker/leader. To assure happy and unstressed horses, it is important for the horse to have the choice of whether to work, doing what and with whom. Consistency of routine and handling practices was suggested as more important than consistency of handlers.
For a more detailed description of this study and the results, see https://soulseekerjourney.com
To become part of the ongoing development of her work, see https://equinetherapyhorsecarestandards.wordpress.com/
Thank you, Cryshtal, for doing the survey and sharing the results in such a timely manner.