Precautions and contraindications are an important consideration of equine assisted activities and therapies (EAAT). Precautions are concerns that need to be further investigated by talking to a physician, mental health professional, or therapist who treats the client. Contraindications mean that the activity is inappropriate.
PATH, Intl. outlines precautions and contraindications in the Standards manual for PATH, Intl. certified instructors and centers. The goal of PATH, Intl. is safety and instructors need to know what is considered unsafe for EAAT, which is where the precautions and contraindications come in. PATH, Intl. sets the standards for safety but it is up to each center and instructor to determine what is safe for their individual program.
Modifications may be made to activities to make a precaution safe and contraindications may be temporary so centers need to determine what is safe for their program. For example, a client has an allergy to latex. This would be a precaution if the center is aware of the client’s allergy and can take steps to minimize or eliminate contact with latex such as having non-latex gloves available for emergencies and using leather reins and plastic toys instead of rubber. The center will need to know where all latex is onsite and have a plan to keep the client away. Because the center and/or instructor can make modifications that make EAAT safe, the client can still participate. If a client was severely allergic to horses or dust, however, EAAT would not be recommended because there is no way to make it safe for the client to be around horses or at a barn.
A contraindication may be permanent if EAAT can never be made safe for a client. This is rare, but can occur if movement causes pain or fatigue for a client, like in cases of arthritis, multiple sclerosis, or coxarthrosis among others. A contraindication may be temporary if it is related to staff, equipment, or available horses. If a center does not have an appropriate equine for the activity then that activity is contraindicated until an equine is able to do the work. This may occur with client size if a client wants to ride but is too large for any of a center’s horses. Therapeutic riding is also contraindicated for children under the age of two. This is temporary because once the child becomes of age, unless there are other contraindications present, the child can partake in EAAT. Another example of a temporary contraindication would be a migraine. A client cannot participate in EAAT during a migraine, but is fine to participate at other times as long as precautions are taken.
PATH, Intl. lays out dozens of examples of precautions and contraindications, but it is truly up to center and instructor to make the final decision. Centers create their own policies based on the PATH, Intl. standards based on what is available to them to safeguard their clients. Precautions and contraindications may only apply to one equine assisted activity or therapy. If mounted work is unavailable for a client, the client may be able to participate in groundwork or driving if the center is able to accommodate.
PATH, Intl. certified instructors and accredited centers put a lot of effort into making lessons safe for all involved. People outside of the industry may not understand how centers and instructors determine appropriate activities so I wanted to outline some of those considerations here! I hope this was helpful. Questions? Leave it below.