A horse owner’s guide to finding a qualified practitioner/bodyworker for your horse in Australia

Equine bodywork is a growing industry; once upon a time you may have been lucky to find a ‘chiro’ and now you’re spoilt for choice between various bodywork modalities and magical devices. As a horse owner, the hunt for an equine bodyworker usually begins with recommendations from friends and other equine professionals, but it soon becomes apparent everyone swears by somebody else! While word-of-mouth recommendations are a solid place to start, it also helps to have an understanding of the industry and what kind of professional you are after.

So, with a veritable smorgasbord of services on offer, what’s the problem?

Unfortunately, the equine bodywork industry in Australia lacks standardisation and regulation. This means that many people do go out and charge for services for which they have had little/inadequate or even no formal training. As a consumer, the horse owner often puts faith in the practitioners and trusts that they have adequate training and qualifications. However, in reality, the onus falls on the horse owner to ensure their practitioner is up to standard. This can be very tricky terrain to navigate, especially when the language people use to market themselves can be a little misleading (for example, training with a company is not the same as being certified by them).

How do I find a qualified practitioner?

The simplest way to screen your practitioner is to directly ask them about their education/experience and proof of qualifications (any practitioner who has gone to the effort of achieving certification will likely be more than happy to share this with you). Years ago, when I was still studying my first massage course, I’d moved to a rural area and was looking for a chiropractor for my horse. It turned out that they were hard to come by, but the locals put me in touch with someone who did service the area occasionally. When I contacted them for information about what they do, they said they had over 20 years of experience and if I needed someone with a piece of paper to say they are qualified, I’d need to find someone else.

Now, it’s worth noting that someone may lack formal qualifications and still be very good at what they do. But, on the other-hand, 20 years of experience doesn’t mean so much if it’s 20 years holding on to outdated ideas and doing an average job. Importantly, someone without qualifications is unlikely to be insured. Unfortunately, accidents can happen and it’s peace of mind to know your practitioner is covered.

If you’re not the type of person to confront people directly about their credentials there are still plenty of ways you can try to screen a potential practitioner. One of these is a simple Google search to see what information is available on their website and socials. Even better, therapists can often be found in databases and registries. For example, in order to source insurance, practitioners need to complete training with a recognised provider and obtain membership with a professional industry body (I’m with the Equine Therapies Association of Australia). These educational providers and associations often have practitioner databases where you can check the details of a prospective practitioner, or search for a practitioner near you.

It’s important to note here that there are differences between bodyworkers (anyone with training in a musculoskeletal modality such as massage) and chiropractors, physiotherapists and osteopaths. In Australia, to become an equine chiro/physio/osteo usually means completing tertiary education in human practice (or veterinary medicine), followed by clinical experience and further education for animal therapy. These pathways require many years of higher education, and often relocation to another state (or even overseas). The difficulties in obtaining this type of training (especially if your passion is animals and not people) may account for the lack of these qualified professionals in Australia. Vets, chiros, physios & osteos need to maintain registration to practise, and this means you should be able to find them on registries such as the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) or through your state’s veterinary board.

What next?

Once you’ve found a potential practitioner and evaluated their qualifications and experience, the next step in the screening process is simply to book them in and see how your horse responds and if this person is the right fit for your team. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that no modality should be considered a ‘one-fix-wonder’ and your horse may need more than one session (and your commitment between sessions) in order to progress. Choosing the right modality is a very individual decision – and perhaps another blog post all on its own – but there is no one modality to rule them all and, in fact, different modalities often compliment one other. Skill of the therapist is also an important factor.

What makes a good therapist besides qualifications and experience?

In my opinion, a good therapist is one who continues their professional development through ongoing learning, is open to ideas and willing to work with others, refers you on to other professionals when further investigation is needed or the situation is beyond their abilities, practises with integrity, and advocates for the well-being of the horse.

I hope you have found this information useful – let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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