Starting Back….Post-COVID

The burning question everyone is asking….

When and HOW can we start back offering Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies (EAATs)

Although I’ve been a little hesitant to a blog and chat on this topic because I feel like I don’t have black and white answers….it’s time to start talking about how to start back up when, not if, we start serving our participants again through Equine Assisted Activities such as Adaptive Horseback Riding**.

Heck….no one has all the answers right now so let’s dig into this current hot topic even if it’s a sensitive one that has a lot of gray areas.

This blog (and linked podcast and video) offers discussion points and thought exercises to help instructors and centers navigate through how they can start serving participants again in a way that works for their specific program and location. Also, thanks to the amazing EAAT community, there are a TON of amazing resources linked and attached to this article.

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Resource Links & Documents

A list of resources and documents relating to this topic will be listed at the end of this blog. THANK YOU  to all the instructors and centers who contributed information to help build this article.

Do YOU have a resource to share? Email it to and I will add it to the list.

This Blog will Cover:

  • The speed of returning to offering services
  • Preparing our equines
  • Preparing our volunteers
  • Preparing our staff
  • Preparing our participants
  • Creating a timeline

Don’t feel like reading the entire thing? Listen to the Podcast or YouTube replay of the Instructor Chat that covered this topic and the points listed in this blog. 

Don’t forget to come back here for all the resources!!!

A Few Disclaimers

  1. Please follow CDC guidelines. For readers outside the US, please resource your country’s health institute.
  2. Follow local regulations set at the state, county, and city level.
  3. Seek advice from legal professionals that are local to your area and familiar with the equine and/or non-profit industry.
  4. Those certified through PATH Intl.: Remember that we should abide by the PATH Intl. Standards for Certification and Accreditation.
    1. Standard A6 says: “Does the center meet federal, state and local laws?” Well….are/will you?
    2. Certified through somewhere else? Check their standards!

This is a Novel Time for Instructors and Centers

It is probably safe to say that for most, if not all, instructors and centers we are currently in a completely new situation we have never experienced. There are also so many factors that are beyond our control when it comes to starting back up post-virus that it may see hard to gather together a plan to start back.

Because of how unique this situation is, the many factors, and how different things look from state to state and country to country, it is important to understand that each instructor/center may have a slightly different plan to start serving their participants again. Also understand that your “plan” may probably will have to change and be flexible as thing progress and more information is discovered and released

Mindset When Building and Gathering this Information

I’m trying to see the silver lining– I will try to give some ideas of the good things that may result from this unplanned break. I am in no way trying to minimize what is going on by trying to see the good but instead provide instructors and centers a ray of hope and encouragement during this difficult time.

This “start” back may look different than any we have experienced– This is a new situation for all of our instructors, staff, horses, volunteers, participants, and funding resources. Because of the many factors and magnitude of the situation, remember that this start back may not will not be the same as starting up programming up for a new year or even the same as a grand opening for a new center.

The information is meant to act as a guide and resource– Like I mentioned in the opening. I don’t have all the answers. I wish I could give you a ten step cut and dry plan to reopen….but I can’t. Take this information and apply it to the situation you are in but make it fit your needs. Continue to seek guidance and resources from others.

Starting back….Like We’re "Turning on a Faucet"

If you are in the US, you have probably heard plans of government and social reopening explained like “slowly turning on the faucet”. Things will slowly start to be added back and reopened so we can hopefully see clear results of the changes.

I think it is wise that instructors and centers follow in this fashion if possible and mirror the trickle that surrounds them. This will allow an instructor and center to adjust and make plans as things change and also speed up or slow down in pace with local and national regulations.

What might a “trickle start back” look like? Remember that it may look a little different for each instructor and center but it may take on some of the following factors:

  1. Only allowing a certain number of total number of people on property (that meets local guidelines)
  2. Switching from offering weekly to bi-weekly classes for students in hopes to serve more people
  3. Starting off serving participants who need little to minimal support from instructors or volunteers.
  4. Starting off with private or semi-private lessons
  5. Starting up or continuing “Tele-Horse” services/virtual programming

How do you decide what starting back looks like for your center?

Consider the sections below and how they apply to your specific situation. Weigh the pros and cons for each step or decision you may make for each topic and have backup plans!

Preparing our Equines

We literally could not do what we do without our wonderful equine coworkers. We should take great care in how we prepare them for starting back serving participants.

What’s the Silver Lining for our Equines?

  1. A great time to give horses a break to let them be horses
  2. A great time to put some additional schooling and training into them
  3. Start off with fresh eyes and come back really listening to them!
  4. Likely seeing a positive change in their behavior and using this time to try an find the root cause of the “Naughty” behaviors (Read Part 1 and Part 2 of the “Naughty Horses” series)

Things to consider/plan for when preparing our equines

  1. Have they been completely off? Have they continued to receive schooling and desensitization?- Depending on what you have been able to do with the horses during this break will greatly dictate how much time you need to get them physically and mentally ready to go back to working again.
  2. Don’t’ expect 100% right away– If, my some odd turn of events we could all start up full swing right away, don’t expect your equines to go back to serving the amount or frequency they ended with.. Will a slow roll out benefit them more than a sudden start?
  3. Reevaluate your horses– Take this time to reevaluate your horses and get a baseline for their strengths and weaknesses under saddle, their movement, general attitude on the ground and under saddle, their reaction to props, etc. Document this information in your records! Sample training checklist document and herd information tracking sheet.
  4. Tack fitting– Use this time to update and check tack fitting for all your equines. We should be doing this at least twice a year (really more…) but it is extremely important when coming back from a break or change in routine. Sample 
  5. Advocating for your equines– Is this a good time to streamline and tighten up on horse handling policies? Are you noticing a positive change in their behavior? Is it relating to how they are handled and how they are expected to act? Can you find a way to keep this positive change rolling even as you add back volunteers and participants?

Preparing our Volunteers

Our volunteers have been personally impacted by COVID-19 and they are likely right alongside us in the feelings of uncertainty and the struggles resulting from the social and economic mandates.

What’s the Silver Lining for our Volunteers?

  1. A good time to start fresh
  2. Clarify, simplify, simplify, and or/update training and procedures?

Things to consider/plan for when preparing our volunteers

  1. Make calls– Check in with your volunteers to see how they are doing. Also check in with them to see if and when they may be coming back and in what capacity. If someone says no or not right now…listen and don’t pressure them! They may be going through things you are unaware of due to the situation.
  2. Be prepared for lower numbers– Whatever number you get from your calls, still be prepared for lower turnout due to childcare, picking up extra jobs to catch up on bills, etc. Some volunteers may also feel absolutely horrible about saying no right now so take into consideration a few “yes” or “maybes” are actually “no”.
  3. Continuing and/or updating training– What type of training do you need to do with your volunteers to get them ready to roll? Is this going to be in person? Can you record a quick video? How will you check for training retention and competency and record this information?
  4. Updating or adding on paperwork– Do you need to have your volunteers sign additional forms? Will we be required by the government to have some type of reentry form? Do you need to update any of their regular paperwork? Please resource local legal advice for waivers, releases, etc. when it comes to this area.
  5. Be aware of their personal lives– this goes with point 2 above. Remember that they have lives outside of volunteering. Be understanding. Be gracious. Be supportive. Listen.
  6. Don’t push them too hard too soon

Preparing our Staff

What’s the Silver Lining with Staff/Instructors?

  1. This may be a time for them to get re-energized and find their passion again for what they do.
  2. A chance for instructors to think outside the box when it comes to program formatting, delivering services, etc. Be willing to listen to ideas!
  3. A time for instructors to try new formats of lesson they may not have gotten to teach in the past. Maybe someone does more groundwork lessons or moves from groups to privates.

Things to consider/plan for when preparing our staff

  1. Who is willing and able to come back?– Thins may have changed drastically in their personal lives and how they can come back as staff or an instructor may look very different. Perhaps they are not able to come back at all for a span of time.
  2. What can they realistically do without getting burnt out?– There will probably be a push and scramble to start things going as fast and as hard as possible. Be careful that you don’t burn out those you need to make things happen (Your staff, volunteers, and horses). The physical and mental well-being of your staff and instructors is very important. An empty cup has nothing to pour out. Don’t empty your staff or instructors in an effort to serve your participants. It’s a loose, loose situation.
  3. Be aware of their personal lives– Already hit pretty hard in points 1 and 2….but don’t forget that your staff and instructors have lives and obligations outside of the barn and center.

Preparing our Participants

Why did I talk about this last? What we are able to do with our participant hinges a lot on local government guidelines, our equines, our staff, and our volunteers.

What’s the Silver lining with our participants

  1. Families and participants may realize how valuable EAATs are to them
  2. ….Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
  3. A chance to document their stories of how EAATs have impacted them
  4. A time to build a stronger relationship and open communication with the families
  5. Help them become more engaged in supporting the center

Things to consider/plan for when preparing our participants

  1. Updating or adding on paperwork– Do you need to have your participants sign additional forms? Will we be required by the government to have some type of reentry form? Do you need to update any of their regular paperwork? Please resource local legal advice for waivers, releases, etc. when it comes to this area.
  2. Being clear about who can start back first and why– Communicate to your families the plan for when and who you will start serving. Will it be private lessons only first? Will it be only independent students that only need indirect volunteer support? Will you be alternating weeks students can come out so you can serve more of them, although less frequent?
  3. Be consistent in implementing your decisions (aka: policies)– If you say you are only going to do private lessons…don’t make an exception. If you are only going to do independent students….don’t make an exception. Failing to follow a policy 100% creates frustration, hurt feelings, and lack of clarity among participants, staff, and volunteers.
    1. What if all the participants are at the same level? How do I decide?
      1. Lottery system by day or horse the student rides
      2. Rotate students in by weeks (Example: Week 1, 2, and 3)
  4. Prepare them for scheduling changes– If you plan on starting slow in a format that is not typical for your center and want to work back to a more traditional schedule be sure to prepare your families and participants. If you have to start with private lessons but know that is not sustainable long term when things get running more smoothly then have that discussion with families who may end up liking your new format better!
  5. What if you can’t serve someone yet?– Could you offer them “tele-horse” sessions between now and when you anticipate them being able to start back? Could you host zoom barn “meetings” for them to say hello to their horse?
  6. Follow ADA guidelines– Seek local legal advice in this area and resource any certifying agencies you are affiliated with.
    1. From the PATH Intl Standards for Certification and Accreditation Manual, 2018 edition, page 10 (excerpt below):
      “ADA Considerations The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees access for people with disabilities to activities in public spaces. Most EAAT programs fit in this category. A PATH Intl. Center may refuse access for safety concerns if it refuses access equally to all individuals with similar characteristics and if there is concern for the safety of personnel, volunteers or other
      participants as a result. For example, a PATH Intl. Center may have a written policy to serve only those individuals weighing less than 200 lbs. with regard for the safety of the sidewalkers. These pre-determined written policies must be administered fairly with no exceptions. Reasons for not providing services, such as concern over the ‘welfare of the equine’ or the ‘well-being of the rider,’ are not sufficient to explain why a rider may be refused participation. A fairly administered, written policy with specific limitations is necessary. Additionally, a PATH Intl. Center may find that providing services safely would be a considerable financial hardship. If this is not the case, it is expected that the center would make reasonable accommodations to provide services. The precautions and contraindications are guidelines. They should not be used solely to justify admission or denial of a participant to the center.” : Source PATH Intl. Standards for Certification and Accreditation Manual. This manual is available free of charge to PATH Intl. Members.

PLANNING and Writing out a Timeline

Sit down and WRITE out a timeline. Don’t just talk about it…write it out! In this timeline figure out how much time you need to get staff, horses, and volunteers ready to serve participants again.

Once you have that timeline you can drop in dates as they are release by your local government and work from there.

It may also help you to write down how you may deal with things that may change or are “in talks” regarding COVID-19 so you have a mental head start on planning things out.

Example: How would you work in face mask? Do you have a hand washing station? What if the number of people allowed on property is larger/smaller than you had anticipated?

Don’t be afraid to come up with a Plan A, B, or C if needed. Remember to be flexible!

And just in case you did not catch the other times I mentioned it: Follow CDC (or local health agency) guidelines and local laws regarding this COVID-19 situation.

Resource Links & Documents

A HUGE "THANK YOU" to the instructors, centers, and organizations that have contributed the following information.

Sample Documents

  • Center Re-Opening Template (Delaware)– Contributed by Karen Garland of SuMMit Centre     WORD
  • Virtual Horse Show Fundraiser– Contributed by Joanna Trussel Berg LCSW, ESMHL and Melissa Child MSW , CTRI from Unbridled Hope Inc.        PDF       WORD
  • Participant Release relating to COVID-19 (Idaho)– Contributed by Joanna Trussel Berg LCSW, ESMHL and Melissa Child MSW , CTRI from Unbridled Hope Inc.      PDF     WORD
  • Sample ‘Social Media & Sick Policy’– Courtesy Saebra Pipoly of Hoof Falls & Footfalls     PDF
  • DRAFT Corona Virus Reopening Plan (Alabama)- Contributed by Joy O’Neal of The Red Barn      WORD
  • Horse Training Checklist– Contributed by Saebra Pipoly of Hoof Falls & Footfalls   PDF
  • Herd Information Tracking Sheet– Contributed by Saebra Pipoly of Hoof Falls & Footfalls     PDF

Online Groups & Education Geared Towards EAAT Professionals

Links, Articles, and Webinar Resources for Centers & Instructors

Watch or listen to the replay of the Instructor Chat!

Saebra Pipoly
Hoof Falls & Footfalls Owner/Founder

** I personally chose to use the term Adaptive Riding vs. Therapeutic Riding and avoid ‘horse therapy’ at all costs. Why? CLICK HEREThe thoughts shared in the  post above apply to not only Adaptive riding but also to other mounted equine activities and therapies offered at an EAAT (Equine Assisted Activity and Therapy) Program/Center/Barn.

4 thoughts on “Starting Back….Post-COVID”

  1. Thank you very much for all of this information. I listened live last week and found it to be one of the most helpful of all the webinars I’ve heard. Not having to start from scratch will be a real time saver. Thanks again!

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