Volume 34, Issue 1, Spring 2015
Putting the Horse before Descartes
Native American Paradigms and Ethics in Equine-Assisted Therapies
This article addresses the need for discourse and dialogue on ethics in the fields of Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) in general and Equine-assisted Therapy (EAT) specifically. Utilizing animals as partners in a therapeutic process requires major cultural paradigm shifts regarding intelligence and emotion and consideration of the ethical implications for the care and agency of these animals. There is a paucity of literature and very little is known about the impact that therapy has on animals. This study suggests that this blind spot may be the result of the legacy of underlying, post-Christian, Western scientific beliefs about human-animal relationships. Practitioners in the field tend to fall into the broad categories of ‘utilitarians’ or ‘stewards’. The author, an EAT practitioner from Native American cultural healing tradition, offers suggestions on the ways in which Native American constructs about animals may provide valuable alternatives to commonly-held Western viewpoints creating opportunities for deeper, more authentic relationships, reciprocity and a greater understanding of horse-human relationships.