Work with horses builds emotional growth, survey suggests

Domino with research investigator Janine Lindgreen.

A study in Kentucky has revealed the ability of work with horses of contribute to people’s emotional intelligence.

Researchers at the University of Kentucky completed one of the first studies to explore how working with horses can develop emotional intelligence in humans.

Center for Leadership Development researchers Patricia Dyk and Lissa Pohl worked with University of Kentucky Healthcare nurse researchers Carol Noriega, Janine Lindgreen and Robyn Cheung on the two-year study, entitled The Effectiveness of Equine Guided Leadership Education to Develop Emotional Intelligence in Expert Nurses.

The project included a control group of 10 nurses from the Neuroscience Surgery Service Line and an intervention group consisting of 11 nurses from the Trauma and Acute Care Surgical Service Line at the university’s Chandler Hospital.

At the start of the study and, again, six months later, both groups took the online assessment appraising emotional intelligence. Nurses in the intervention group participated in a one-day workshop that involved experiential learning with horses.

“Each exercise in the workshop was designed to develop the four emotional intelligence competency areas of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management,” said Pohl, research project manager and workshop facilitator.

Nurses from the intervention group filled out qualitative surveys immediately after their experience with the horses and again three months after the workshop.

The before and after survey results showed there was an increase in the scores of the intervention group in all four competency areas when compared to the control group. The researchers admitted, though, that the small number of participants in the study made it difficult to conclude that working with the horses was the cause of the intervention group’s increase.

OK with horse handler Carrie Bowling and nurse researchers Janine Lindgreen and Carol Noriega practicing the Patient Care Corral exercise during the workshop development phase.
OK with horse handler Carrie Bowling and nurse researchers Janine Lindgreen and Carol Noriega practicing the Patient Care Corral exercise during the workshop development phase.

Marie-Claude Stockl, owner of the New York-based Horse Institute, was the co-facilitator for the workshop with the nurses. Her institute, with locations in five states, facilitates equine-assisted learning workshops for corporate groups.

“We are thrilled to get this research completed, because it builds the credibility of all organizations offering this type of learning experience,” she said.

According to Pohl, the initial results are encouraging and lay the groundwork for subsequent studies of larger and more diverse populations of nurses.

“If horses can increase our ability to understand ourselves and others better, then the healthcare industry is a perfect place for studies like these,” Pohl said. “When nurses and doctors benefit from collaborating with horses then ultimately their patients also benefit.”

Funding for the study came from the Dorothy Brockopp Nursing Research Award, the College of Agriculture Research Activities Award and Winning With Horsepower’s online fundraising campaign.

Dyk, who is director of the Center for Leadership Development, said: “With Lexington being known as the Horse Capital of the World, it is only fitting that the University of Kentucky is conducting pioneering research in the emerging field of equine assisted learning.”


To access the full research report and for more information on contributing to this research, go to



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