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What Is an Equine Physical Therapist?

Research what it takes to become an equine physical therapist. Learn about education and training requirements and the different professional paths to find out if this is the career for you.

What is an Equine Physical Therapist?

Equine physical therapists work with horses suffering from strains, injuries or other muscular problems. These specialized veterinarians mix veterinary techniques with massage and neuro-muscular exercise to bring healing. They often work in teams consisting of other veterinary professionals, as well as the horse's owner. The table below provides some basic information about this career:

Degree Required Doctoral degree
Education Field of Study Veterinary medicine
Licensure Required in all states
Job Growth (2018-28) 18% ( for all veterinarians)*
Median Salary (2018) $93,830 ( for all veterinarians)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Will I Do as an Equine Physical Therapist?

As an equine physical therapist, you'll typically see patients a few times a week over an extended period of time until the injury is healed or there is no more work to be done. Your work will probably be done in conjunction with the horse's owner, trainer and veterinarian, among other practitioners. The International Veterinarian Information Service says that equine physical therapists often employ massage, ultrasound therapy, electromagnetic therapy and muscle stimulators (www.ivis.org). You might also exercise horses with treadmills and jet pools as healing and strengthening tools.

How Do I Become One?

This profession isn't currently regulated in the United States, which means there are no specific training requirements for you to meet. As such, you won't be able to find equine therapy programs; however, you can prepare for this job by becoming a physical therapist. You'll need to enroll in either a master's or doctoral degree in physical therapy. Whichever program you choose, make sure it's accredited by the American Physical Therapy Association's Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education. The graduate programs incorporate lecture and laboratory classes covering such topics as neurology, musculoskeletal disorders and geriatrics.

You'll also gain supervised experience in clinics to practice what you've learned on humans. With a graduate degree in physical therapy, you'll be able to seek licensure as a physical therapist. Each state has different requirements, but many will require you to pass the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy's National Physical Therapy Examination. Another path you may decide to take in becoming an equine physical therapist is to earn your Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.

Where Will I Work?

Equine physical therapists often find work wherever horses are located. Veterinary clinics and animal hospitals may employ you as an equine physical therapist, or you can own your own veterinary office if you choose the second educational path. You may work as an independent, freelance equine physical therapist. Sometimes stable owners or racehorse owners may call you in to work on horses. Some specialty businesses offer physical therapy services to horses and house them, like a hospital.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Some careers related to that of an equine physical therapist include veterinary technologists, animal care and service workers and physical therapists. Veterinary technologist aren't required to have the level of education a veterinarian has, but they may perform basic veterinary care tasks under the direction of a veterinarian. Animal care and service workers provide basic care to animals including feeding and grooming, and they only need a high school diploma. Veterinarian technologist and animal care and service workers may work alongside equine physical therapists. Outside of the field of animal care, physical therapists help human patients recover form disabling illnesses and injuries. They also need a doctoral degree to enter the field.