Research Brief on Equine Assisted Services - Bob Woodruff Foundation

The Bob Woodruff Foundation Releases Research Brief on Equine-Assisted Services for Veterans and Military Families

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Within the last few decades, the number of programs that incorporate horses to benefit the well-being of veterans has increased tremendously. However, this expansion poses a challenge. Many recipients, advocates, providers, funders and policy makers, were unclear about the terminology surrounding these services. The Bob Woodruff Foundation (BWF) addressed this challenge. We funded a group of leaders in this field to conduct a two-year consensus-building process to develop a recommended list of terms to describe equine-assisted services. Based on insights from the recently published “Optimal Terminology for Services in the United States That Incorporate Horses to Benefit People: A Consensus Document,” BWF has now released “Tackling the Terms: Baseline Definitions for Equine-Assisted Services,” the latest issue in their Stand SMART for Heroes research series.

In early 2018, PATH International initiated the consensus-building process with representatives from the American Hippotherapy Association, Inc., the Certification Board for Equine Interaction Professionals, the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association, the Equine Experiential Education Association, the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. They surveyed over 1,700 service providers and stakeholders about the use of terms used to describe relevant equine-assisted services. The results of the survey served as the basis for the optimal terminology document.

“Rather than a list of words or phrases to be dutifully uttered, the consensus document capture recommends important shifts in how various equine-assisted services (EAS) have evolved,” said Dr. Wendy Wood, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA. Dr Wood is a professor of animal sciences and occupational therapy and director of research for the Temple Grandin Equine Center, Colorado State University. “When we use optimal terminology, we most accurately and powerfully honor contemporary types of EAS that deserve to be distinctly identified and promoted. We better educate and protect consumers of specific services;  convey to funders and policy makers what particular services entail; and may better preserve an invaluable role of the horse in society. For all these reasons our use of optimal terminology can strengthen our community.”

According to “Optimal Terminology for Services that Incorporate Horses to Benefit People,” equine-assisted services is the unifying term referencing multiple services across the areas of therapy, learning and horsemanship. Types of therapy may include occupational therapy, speech and language pathology, psychotherapy and counseling, equine-assisted learning skills, adaptive riding, therapeutic riding and more. The report also identifies terms that we should no longer use: equine therapy, equestrian therapy, equine-assisted activities and therapies, hippotherapist, horseback-riding therapy, and therapy riding.

“It’s important for us to offer education for our partners, military and veteran families, and for consumers who may not understand the increased incorporation of equines in today’s programming” said Anne Marie Dougherty, Chief Executive Officer of the Bob Woodruff Foundation. “By sharing what we’ve learned from our partners through our latest issue of Stand SMART for Heroes, we’re providing the community with knowledge and resources to support military families across the country.”

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About Stand Smart for Heroes:

Stand SMART for Heroes is a publication series from the Bob Woodruff Foundation (BWF). The series  translates important research findings to the community of organizations that represent and serve veterans, service members, families and caregivers. For more information on the Bob Woodruff Foundation and Stand SMART for Heroes, please visit


About the Bob Woodruff Foundation: 

The Bob Woodruff Foundation (BWF) was founded in 2006 after reporter Bob Woodruff was wounded by a roadside bomb while covering the war in Iraq. Since then, the Bob Woodruff Foundation has led an enduring call to action for people to stand up for heroes and meet the emerging and long-term needs of today’s veterans, including suicide prevention, mental health, caregiver support, and food insecurity. To date, BWF has invested over $76 million to Find, Fund and Shape™ programs that have empowered impacted veterans, service members, and their family members, across the nation. For more information, please visit or follow us on Twitter at @Stand4Heroes.