What is a Psychologist?

When we hear the word psychology, it can conjure up all sorts or ideas like the photo above (we like a giggle here!). We normally associate this term with human psychology. The Oxford English dictionary describes psychology as ‘the scientific study of the human mind and its functions, especially those affecting behaviour in a given context.‘ A psychologist is termed as ‘an expert or specialist in psychology

Psychologist or Behaviourist?

It’s mainly terminology, behaviourism is an area of psychology.

Behaviorism is a systematic approach to understanding the behavior of humans and other animals, a behaviourist applies the approach. If you are looking for someone to apply this approach with horse species specific knowledge you might seek out an Equine Behaviourist.

An Equine (or Horse) psychologist studies the workings of the equine mind and it’s functions associated with behaviour. Equine psychologists may examine both the behaviour and account for the neurological responses. They have a similar approach to behaviourists.

What is the Difference?

Not an awful lot is the short answer!

As an Equine Psychologist, I cannot offer a formal diagnosis, I refer clients to a clinical equine behaviourist if I believe that is appropriate, such as extreme cases that are a danger to horse and/or rider. I am able to report my findings to a clinical equine behaviourist.

Most of my clients seek me out because they want help with shaping behaviours such as basic training, trailer loading, hoof care etc and for that my role is more than adequate to support your partnership. However I sometimes consult in the field (no pun intended!) of herd dynamics and horse management (varies from single horses to yards).

Qualifications & Courses

Qualifications are important to serve as proof that a person has received information and understood it to a level that was acceptable to pass. A qualification doesn’t necessarily prove a person can APPLY their knowledge well in practice, only that they understand how to apply it in theory (some qualifications do have practical application so it’s worth asking if you want that level of detail).

It is very difficult to gain a qualification in the area of Animal Behaviour or Equine Psychology as there are limited courses available and only a few to my knowledge that offer any kind of certification.

Qualifications are different to accreditation and certifications, so it might be helpful to know the difference. A qualification is through a regulatory body and must be approved by a council. An accreditation is usually more like an association or membership to a body such as the CMA or IAHT and certifications can come from any course provider or regulatory body. Certificates of attendance are different from certification as certification requires an assessment as well as attendance.

Available Courses

Edinburgh University offer a Master Degree course in Equine Behaviour . The masters degree is often quite restrictive due to cost and time. The outcome of the Masters Degree is that the individual becomes a qualified Equine Behaviourist. Any person stating themselves as an equine behaviourist or equine behaviour consultant could easily be confused with having the qualifications as mentioned, so do check these qualifications as there is no regulatory body at present, just associations that offer memberships.

As mentioned I personally undertook the Level 3 Diploma in Equine Psychology, which is the next highest educational program I know of. There are various course run by Oxford College, Centre of Excellent and there are probably others. These involve 1 year in study and include an assessment process to pass or gain distinction depending on your grade.

The Natural Animal Centre also run distance species specific Animal Behaviour courses, again though these are not a formal qualification and the centre do suggest the course as practical experience following a degree (can be undertaken separately).

Do Qualifications Matter?

To some degree (sorry about the puns) it does, you want to know the person you are hiring to work with your horse has the necessary knowledge and skills to be able to do the job.

What can you do? Ask them about their background and studies, check out their website and client reviews. Look out for videos of them working with horses so you can see how they apply and interact. You might not know exactly what to look for, but when you piece it all together it should give you a good idea and feel for the individual.

What I also like to mind people of, is that before there was organised learning, before there was a single qualification it took applied knowledge, collaboration, research and personal development to create universities, colleges, qualification bodies etc. Academia began when there were no teachings, so it feels important to remember that there is much to learn outside of the classroom and to work together with other professionals to combine knowledge.

Lastly I do like to flip it entirely and say qualifications don’t matter. If PERSON A and PERSON B know the same information but PERSON A has a piece of paper to prove it, does that make the information PERSON B knows less valid? It doesn’t! Not everyone learns in the same way and in the same environment, that is why many professions offer apprenticeships (there aren’t any for equine behaviour or psychology). Don’t be too quick to judge someone who doesn’t hold the piece of paper, not because they couldn’t achieve it, but because they learned through alternative channels, or through experience. As long as they don’t claim to hold the piece of paper when they don’t!

Why do I call regard myself as an Equine Psychologist & not an Animal Behaviourist?

Well firstly, I specialise in Equines! I don’t know about other animals and certainly wouldn’t want you to call me if your dog needed training. I’m also not technically a behaviourist. None of my certifications say I am a behaviourist and in fact the degree mentioned earlier is termed Equine Behaviour, not Equine Psychology so I wouldn’t want to mislead anyone in to thinking I was a qualified Equine Behaviourist, legally I could, but morally it just feels plain wrong.

All of my certificates recognise my expertise and practice as Equine Psychology.


My Personal Studies & Experience

My personal study of human psychology up until a few years ago was a course I took in college. However, when my daughter was diagnosed with autism in 2009 I took to more in-depth approach to studying therapies and trained in Intensive Interaction with Dr Dave Hewitt, PECS picture communication systems and a course on Applied Behavioural Analysis.

When I started back riding horses I knew I had a lot more to learn in terms of equine behaviour and psychology.  I set about a diploma in Equine Psychology, accredited by the Complementary Medical Association (of whom I am a professional member), International Alliance of Holistic Therapists, Continued Professional Development (CPD) points scheme and fully endorsed by ABC Awards (recognised by Ofqual). I received a whole stack of certificates and memberships when I finished the course, but for me the course was just the beginning.

I personally find the courses a great step in the door to point me in the direction of what I want to learn. Since completing the Equine Psychology course 2 years ago, I’ve also completed several  courses in Equine Management, Neuroscience, Anatomy, Zoopharmacognosy, Animal Behaviour, Equestrian Coaching and I could go on. I also regularly attend conferences and read a lot of journals and research papers.

If you would like to learn more about me, please check out my About Page which lists all of my registrations, certifications and memberships & my Facebook page lists all of the wonderful feedback I have received to date publicly (I am also grateful to receive lovely letters and emails).

Happy trails with your equine partners!

Phillippa Christie MCMA IAHT, Equine Psychologist & Bitless Specialist.

Please follow and like us:

Leave a Reply