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A structured therapeutic riding program benefited veterans with post-traumatic stress symptoms and functional disabilities, a study has found.
Texas-based researchers enrolled 89 veterans in the study. Fifty-one participated in an eight-week therapeutic riding program and 38 were in the waitlist/control group.
Seventy-six percent completed all eight weeks of the program and 55% completed the two-month follow up surveys.
Twenty-nine of the 38 waitlist/control group members completed all eight-weeks.
The sample consisted of 62 men and 27 women, with an average age of 39. Most participants had completed at least two tours of duty.
Principal investigator Beth Lanning and her Baylor University colleagues set out to examine the effects of therapeutic horseback riding on posttraumatic stress symptoms, quality of life, and functioning of combat veterans using the International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health (ICF) as a framework.
The study team, reporting in the June edition of the journal Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, said their findings revealed a clinically significant decrease in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.
Participants showed improved social functioning, greater vitality, and it was found there was less interference of emotions on their daily activities.
There was evidence of improved confidence, trust, acceptance of self and others, and gratitude.
“A structured therapeutic horseback riding program provided beneficial therapeutic effects for veterans with PTSD and functional disabilities,” the researchers concluded.
They said the ICF model proved to be a useful lens through which to examine changes in mental and physical functioning and to explore the changes as they related to specific levels of disability, quality of life, and overall functioning.
The participants reported clinically meaningful improvement in PTSD symptoms and mental health, the authors reported, with a marked improvement in participation and overall functioning over the course of the program.
The differences in PTSD and depression symptoms and overall mental health and functioning scores between those taking part in the riding program and control group grew larger over time, with the riding group reported more improvement in overall functioning than the control group.
Participants had reported feeling anxious, depressed and isolated before the intervention. Post-intervention responses indicated feelings of self-acceptance, increased confidence, gratitude, hope, reduced anxiety and anger, and increased patience.
The participants described the importance of the barn environment and the unique relationship with the horse as key components that contributed to their improved quality of life and functioning.
The work had backing from the Horses and Humans Research Foundation, which is dedicated to funding research to support the equine-assisted activities and therapies field.
The study abstract can be read here.