By Ellen Erdman, PT, DPT, HPCS
The American Hippotherapy Certification Board (AHCB) was created in 1998 to develop and maintain a method to validate the knowledge of physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology professionals using hippotherapy in clinical practice. This directly supports the AHA, Inc. mission: improve lives by advancing education, best practices, and resources for licensed healthcare professionals who incorporate horses in therapy. To provide evidence of advanced education and use of best practices, the ACHB’s certification tests were developed.
During the initial development of the Hippotherapy Clinical Specialist (HPCS) exam, the AHCB Board consisted of the AHA, Inc. Board of Directors. The AHCB Board eventually evolved to become a separate entity to ensure independence between the organization that provides the education and the group that oversees the certification. The ACHB Board is now comprised of physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech-language pathologists who have demonstrated ongoing competency in the field and have attained the title of HPCS. The committee meets several times each year and collaborates with the Professional Testing Corporation (PTCNY, http://ptcny. com) to create new test questions, review psychometric properties and quality of the test questions, and respond to concerns from the field and potential applicants. The committee works with AHA, Inc. faculty and other experts to ensure current concepts, content, and references are reflected in the tests. The collaboration with PTCNY ensures validity, fairness, and accuracy of all questions put forth on the examinations.
Currently, there are two different certification levels: the AHCB certification examination and the HPCS examination. Both assess knowledge in the areas of program administration, basic horsemanship, posture and movement, and application of hippotherapy principles. The clinical specialist examination also includes questions on movement science, the history of hippotherapy, and theory/ research related to the field. Each exam has specific prerequisites. Both examinations are offered twice each year, with a required fee to sit for either examination. Re-takes are possible for an additional fee. Confidentiality is strictly maintained regarding the names of therapists who do not successfully pass the exam. When the test is successfully completed, clinicians have proved advanced knowledge in the incorporation of hippotherapy treatment principles. This outside validation may promote communication with third-party payers, consumers, and other healthcare professionals. Therapists who have successfully passed the examinations also have the appropriate credentials listed on the “Find a Therapist” page of the AHA, Inc. website.
The AHCB certification exam was developed to recognize individuals demonstrating basic knowledge of practice standards of the profession. Eligibility requirements include:
- Current therapy license to practice physical therapy, occupational therapy, or speech-language pathology
- A minimum of 1 year of clinical experience as a licensed clinician (physical therapist, physical therapy assistant, occupational therapist, occupational therapy assistant, speech-language pathologist, speech-language pathology assistant)
- Completion of AHA, Inc. Level I and II Equine Skills and Treatment Principles courses or equivalent graduate-level courses
- Minimum of 25 hours of one-on-one direct patient treatment using hippotherapy prior to certification application deadline
- A basic level of horsemanship, which includes experience and comfort with horses and the ability to ride safely and independently at the walk and trot
Approved applicants sit for a ISO-question multiple choice examination, which must be passed with a minimum 80% score. Successful applicants can describe themselves as “AHCB Hippotherapy Certified” but there are no additional initials.
The HPCS exam recognizes individuals who demonstrate advanced knowledge in the use of equine movement in therapy practice. Eligibility requirements include:
- Current therapy license to practice
- A minimum of 3 years/6,000 hours of clinical experience as a licensed physical therapy, occupational therapy, or speech-language pathology professional (this exam is limited to therapists only)
- Minimum of 100 hours of one-on-one direct patient treatment incorporating hippotherapy prior to certification application deadline
- A basic level of horsemanship, which includes experience and comfort with horses and the ability to ride safely and independently at the walk, trot, and canter
Approved applicants sit for a 250-question multiple choice examination, which must be passed with a minimum 80% score. Successful therapists can use the initials “HPCS” in their title to indicate this advanced education and clinical competence.
Both tests are administered at approved PTCNY sites, which can be accessed via links from the AHCB website: https://hippotherapycertification.org. Online registration is required.
Both AHCB certification and HPCS certification are valid for a period of 5 years. Recertification encourages continued AHA, Inc. membership and requires ongoing related education, such as the AHA, Inc. International Conference. HPCS renewal requires additional scholarly activity.
Visit https://hippotherapycertification.org or https:/ /ptcny.com/test-sponsors/ahcb to download an application, see fees, review exam content/dates, attain additional information, or to contact the AHCB. Additionally, the AHCB is currently seeking new members who are committed to their profession as well as continuing the incorporation of hippotherapy into their practice at a high standard. AHA, Inc. members who have a current HPCS and are interested in serving on the AHCB, please contact Carol Huegel at hippopt@ aol.com. ◄