Needs of the few, an ethical dilemma
According to societal norms, the needs of the many often outweigh the needs of the few. However, in therapy, the needs of the few over the many is where the importance is placed. That is what makes therapy unique.
Seldom in society are the needs of the few or the individual often met in the same way. To hold an individual in the therapeutic space in such a regard that the therapist places the client at the centre of any work can be a unique experience for a lot of people. So then, my next question lies within equine therapy: do we follow societal norms (‘the needs of many’) with regards to our equine colleagues - clients outweighing the needs of the few (the horses) - or do we follow our internal supervisor and extend our ethical practice towards our colleagues (the horses) in this work?
Recently I've found myself having to navigate this environment, balancing the needs of my equine partners/colleagues with the needs of my clients. Due to sharing a practice location regarding equine therapy, I’ve often found myself at odds with what is best for my equine partner and what the site is demanding. My ethical compass has been spinning night and day trying to find the correct path to ensure my horse's needs are met, until eventually, the only thing left to do, the only thing that will ensure my partner in this work has everything she needs, is to stop fighting.
It can seem like a defeat or even a failure, but there is wisdom in knowing when your horse's needs are not being met, nor will they be met in the current situation. Recently, a client told me they had been in an ongoing situation for over 30 years. I remember asking if she had thought of doing something different to get a different result, she had not. This client taught me that if you keep doing the same thing, the results will be the same. Therefore, it is time to change the approach.
I've found myself wrestling with decisions day and night for weeks on end. My stomach was in knots this morning as I’d finally accepted that I needed to change my approach in order to ensure my therapy horse's needs were being met.
In equine therapy, I've always said that if I was going to work with horses, then I was going to work with them, not against them. They would not be a tool to benefit others at the expense of their own welfare. They are a colleague. And sticking to my core values and training has what has guided me through this process to the difficult decision I have had to make.
Indeed, our ethical practice as practitioners should extend to our equine counterparts. As such, I’m guided not only by common decency but also by strong ethics that by extending them to our horses, our horses are afforded the same rights we would give any client. Chief amongst these is choice. For our clients, this would be autonomy.
So then, when our horses have their choice taken away by a site, what is to be done? The situation has been untenable for some time, and yet I've been fighting for what I believe is a basic right for therapy horses, to have a choice, but to no avail.
Thus, by extension, as a practitioner, I now have no choice either but to ensure my therapy horses have their basic rights and needs met. I need to stop fighting for rights a site has no interest in providing and move my therapy horses somewhere else that can meet their needs.
On balance, the potential to cut my business in half is there. To lose my client base for this work also there, to damage the company’s reputation by pulling out of agreements early. Weighing all that against the basic values I set out in this work to uphold, I am amazed I had to wrestle with this dilemma at all.
In conclusion, what I hope you take from this article is that there is always another way. Don't be afraid to step outside of societal norms in order to ensure those who have their choice taken away from them don't have to suffer in silence.
And the right choice may not always be the easy choice, but if you stick to your values, then you will not be far out in deciding the right approach. Work with your supervisors. They are there to help keep you and your clients safe.
It is often said you get the clients you need. I did not believe this until now. My client work has directly helped me make the decision to move the therapy horses back to their owner, who will ensure they go to a good site that can meet their needs going forward.
If you're a therapist and have difficult choices to make, you can seek your supervisor's help. If you’re a potential client, you can talk to your therapist who will help you decide which path is right for you. They are not dilemmas because they are easy, they are dilemmas because we could make either choice. Do what's right for you and your horse.