A Better Alternative: Choosing a practitioner

How do you know if an alternative-care practitioner is legit? Liz Barnard provides some guidelines concerning accreditation.

From Liz:

Hi again!  So you’ve decided an alternative care practitioner is in order for your horse.  But how to you choose one?  A friend told you about her farrier who also adjusts her horse, all in the same appointment.  That would be great, right?  But before you set up that appointment, let’s go over a few things.

I believe you should ask any person who is going to work on your horse what his or her experience and credentials are.  Most practitioners will have this information on their business cards or websites.  I put a lot of work into getting all those letters after my name–I‘m going to show it off a little when appropriate.  To me it’s a little red flag if I have seen their card or site and still have to inquire about what their credentials are.  Not what all those letters mean, but whether they even have any.

Let’s go over these letters and abbreviations.  Are you ready for the alphabet song?  Except we’re not going do the letters in order.  Yep, I’m talking about all those TLAs and FLAs (Three- and Four-Letter Acronyms).

Certification and degrees:

  • AVCA – American Veterinary Chiropractic Association
  • CVA – Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist
  • CVCH – Certified Veterinary Chinese Herbalist
  • DC – Doctor of Chiropractic (People)
  • DVM- Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
  • EBW – Equine Body Worker or EEBW for Equinology Equine Body Worker
  • ESMT – Equine Sports Massage Therapist
  • LAMP – Large Animal Massage Practitioner
  • MEBW – Master Equine Body Worker
  • TCM – Traditional Chinese Medicine


  • AAEP – American Association of Equine Practitioners
  • AAVA – The American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncturist
  • AVCA – American Veterinary Chiropractic Association
  • AVMA – American Veterinary Medicine Association
  • IEBWA – International Equine Body Worker Association

I am sure I missed some, so please shout out to me if you are aware of anything I omitted here.  In fact I was looking for certifications about herbs but couldn’t locate any other than the Chinese Herbalist listed above.

Just to illustrate how it works, when I feel like being formal and using letters after my name it looks like this: Liz Barnard, BS, LMT, EEBW.  Member ABMP & IEBWA.  To detangle all the acronyms… Bachelor of Science, Licensed Massage Therapist (for people) and Equinology Equine Body Worker.  The memberships are for the Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals and International Equine Body Worker Association.  Obviously only half of those letters apply to my work with horses.  It definitely helps to know what credentials you are looking for as you try to slog through the alphabet following someone’s professional title.

Back to our scenario at the start, the one where your friend has a farrier that also performs chiropractic adjustments.  He may well do great things for your horse.  Some things you may want to consider, though, are the benefits of using a properly credentialed practitioner:

  • Insurance/Malpractice coverage. If they are properly credentialed and a member of an organization that oversees that type of work, they should have access to insurance.  Hopefully, they are smart enough to actually have the insurance.  Definitely a plus if you carry insurance on your horse.
  • They should have a grasp on what they can and can’t do–it’s called scope of practice.  It’s why I know I don’t do chiropractic adjustments on the horses.  Yes, you may get what I call a “freebie”–by releasing restrictions in the soft tissue some part of your horse’s spine self-corrects.  I will not, however, attempt to force something to move somewhere.
  • They should know what they are doing.  It sounds like the idea above, but taking it in a different direction.  Basically, it’s quality assurance.  If you have someone with credentials you know they had to go through a certain amount of basics.  Typically that involves anatomy and physiology of the horse.  Also they should know what contraindications are for their work, or when they should not work on your horse.
  • Be legal… OK, not all states have the same requirements.  However, as far as I know they all have a Vet Practice Act of some nature that explains what is and is not considered to be in the realm of Veterinary Medicine.  Sometimes they mention chiropractic and massage specifically, other times not.  Also, it’s up to you if you wish to fly under the radar, so to speak.  I will tell you honestly that for chiropractic work on my horses, I have used practitioners who were DVMs with their chiropractic certification and I’ve used those guys that just have learned it from someone else who could do it.  I will tell you I’ve had good and bad results from both.  Given the choice I would opt for someone with more education than not.  (DVM or DC with additional appropriate training to do chiropractic on horses.)

If in doubt, talk to your veterinarian.  They should be able to direct you to someone reputable with appropriate credentials for your state.

While I have met uncredentialed people doing these different types of work who are doing a good job, at this point in my life I only use them as a last option.  Maybe I’m being snooty, but I see it this way:  I’ve done my homework to be sure I am appropriately credentialed–in my case I have my license to be a massage therapist for people and am certified as an Equine Body Worker.  My horses are of value to me, whether financially or emotionally.  I owe it to them to utilize a properly trained practitioner.

About Liz:  Like many here, I was always a horse-crazy kid.  After receiving my Bachelors of Science in Equine Science, I started training horses.  At some point it occurred to me that there were ways to make a living that were easier on my body.  So I changed careers and became a Licensed Massage Therapist and Equinology Equine Body Worker.  I love what I do.  Growing up riding in the Pacific Northwest I was spoiled with indoor arenas.  Now living in the high desert of Northern Nevada where covered arenas are as sparse as the trees, I find I’m a fair weather rider.  When I do ride, I dabble with Reined Cow Horses.  For more info, please visit my website www.lizbarnard.massagetherapy.com.

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