Equine Welfare Standards for Providers of Equine Assisted Services (EAS)

The NEWC Code of Practice and Member Standards

The National Equine Welfare Council in collaboration with The Human Equine Interaction Register (HEIR) has developed a code of practice for providers of EAS to protect and enhance the welfare of participating equines. The following code includes the NEWC member standards for EAS providers, which is underpinned by the general principle that all equines should be managed in a way that satisfies their species-specific needs. Further details relating to specific aspects of equine management can be found in the full list of NEWC member standards.

NEWC promotes registration with HEIR to all NEWC members involved in the provision of EAS. The Equine Assisted Services Partnership manages the Human Equine Interaction Register (HEIR) which serves the EAS provider and trainer community to ensure that minimum standards for equine welfare are applied alongside good governance, service user involvement and measured outcomes. NEWC will promote HEIR registration to all new NEWC EAS applicants to align best practice standards for both humans and equines.

All equines must be managed in a way that provides them with adequate access to friends, freedom, and forage. Exposure to potentially aversive experiences should be avoided where possible and an evidence-based approach to the interpretation of equine behavioural responses adopted. Both experiential and scientific evidence relating to behavioural needs and behavioural responses should be considered. This is an evolving area which will be reviewed and updated as required.

All practitioners are expected to reflect on the potential impact that EAS sessions have on equine welfare, and most importantly, how behavioural responses (or lack thereof) are indicative of equine subjective experience. The following standards were developed for application across all modalities of EAS. In addition, a written policy/procedure that relates to the specific modality of EAS practised by the organisation (including ridden and driven sessions) is required, to ensure that the welfare of the participating equines is not compromised during the sessions.

NEWC Member Standards for EAS

1. Provision of a suitable environment for conducting Equine Assisted (EA) sessions

  • The environment in which EA sessions are conducted is safe and secure for both equine and human participants.
  • The area designated for EA sessions is such that safeguarding guidelines can be followed and where appropriate, participant privacy (individual or group) can be ensured.
  • The designated area is suitable for the nature of the EA activities conducted (i.e., of an adequate size, configuration, and proximity to other facilities).
  • For sessions involving equines at liberty, sufficient space is provided to allow them to distance themselves from uncomfortable situations if required.
  • The ground surface of the designated area provides safe footing for both human and equine participants.
  • Equines have access to fresh water before, after, and if appropriate, during sessions.

2. Selection of equine participants for inclusion in Equine Assisted (EA) sessions

  • All equines involved in EAS are in good health, pain free and mentally sound for the session they are to be involved in.
  • The suitability of individual equines for the inclusion in EAS is considered based on temperament, safe and appropriate responses to stimuli, and their experiences of interactions with humans, both in the short and long term.
  • The choice of equine is guided by the needs of the human participant(s), the needs and abilities of the equine, the skills of the facilitator and the intended outcomes of the session.
  • Each equine has an individual risk assessment that is reviewed, taking into consideration the context and timing of the session, and that behavioural responses will change according to the emotional state and behaviour of the human participant(s).
  • Knowledge of the equine’s history (for example, abuse, abandonment) is considered and the potential impact of this on behavioural responses/salient stimuli/triggers is recognised.
  • Human participants are made aware of species-specific and individual behavioural tendencies and advised of general health and safety guidelines in relation to interactions with equines.

3. Preparation of Equines

  • Equine training prior to inclusion in EA sessions is appropriate for the type of approach used.
  • The designated area in which the session is conducted is familiar to the equine participants; new equines are habituated to the area prior to participation.
  • Equine participants are either familiar with the tasks included in the sessions, or if new tasks/pieces of equipment are used these are introduced with care.
  • If groups of equines are included in sessions, then familiarity with the other equines within the group is ensured.

4. Monitoring Equine Behaviour during sessions

  • Practitioners/facilitators are familiar with the natural behavioural repertoire of equines, in particular behavioural signs of stress and pain and individual variations therein.
  • A practitioner/facilitator with knowledge of the individual equine(s), with the ability to predict their reactions and interpret their responses, is present during the sessions. OR: A practitioner/facilitator with an in-depth knowledge of equine behaviour is present during the sessions.
  • When a session involves working at liberty, there is provision made for the equine(s) to choose to participate or leave the session, either by providing a space that equines can freely enter and exit, or by the practitioner heeding behavioural signs and responding accordingly.
  • If an equine shows any signs of distress they are removed from the immediate situation or from the entire session.
  • In sessions involving pairs or groups of equines, if one animal shows signs of needing to be removed from the session then both / all the animals are removed to avoid separation anxiety.
  • The equine:participant ratio is appropriate for the specific activity being undertaken and does not compromise equine well-being.
  • Practitioners understand how clients might respond to equine interactions (according to client diagnosis / potential diagnosis).
  • A record is kept of the behaviour of the equines in each session (noting behavioural signs that are a cause for concern, further training requirements and updated risk assessments where appropriate).

5. Monitoring Equine Behaviour pre- and post-session

  • Pre-session checks of the environment and equines are made prior to sessions to ensure that safety and security are optimal.
  • There is standardised reporting of behaviour before and after each session to monitor the impact of the activities on the equine. 
  • Practitioners/facilitators are trained in how to report these behaviours to ensure uniform assessment of welfare/wellbeing.
  • Behavioural changes in both the short and long term are reviewed, and modifications made to session content, equine preparation and/or choice of equine to mitigate any negative impact of sessions on the equine.
  • Where equines have a health issue this is addressed immediately, and subsequently sufficient time is allowed for a full recovery before participating in future sessions.

6. Length and frequency of Equine Assisted (EA) sessions

  • The length and frequency of EA sessions are formally monitored and reported to protect equine welfare and wellbeing.
  • Schedules are created to allow the equine time to process after each session they are involved in.
  • The behaviour and health of the equines involved steer the session frequency and length.
  • Activities outside of EA sessions that equines are involved in are considered, as well as the potential positive or negative impact that these may have on equine quality of life. 
  • Periods of alternative activities/rest periods are provided to ensure that the welfare of equines involved in EA sessions is not compromised.
  • Non-equine involvement sessions (for example, behaviour observations, enrichment creation, environment management and other approaches that do not involve direct inclusion of individual equines) are considered if the demand for sessions is at risk of resulting in equine overload.

In addition to the NEWC member standards for EAS, and the specific standards for the modality of EAS provided, international guidelines on care, training, and welfare requirements for equines in equine-assisted services are available. The IAHAIO international guidelines provide further best practice guidance for meeting the care, training and welfare requirements for equines involved in delivering equine-assisted services. These are based on a review of evidence of current best practices and research, which is reviewed every two years. 

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