Therapeutic riding programs help troubled veterans, study finds

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Rebecca Johnson and her team determined that veterans had a significant decrease in PTSD scores just weeks after undertaking therapeutic horse riding. Results show that therapeutic horseback riding may be effective in easing PTSD symptoms in military veterans.
Rebecca Johnson and her team determined that veterans had a significant decrease in PTSD scores just weeks after undertaking therapeutic horse riding. Results show that therapeutic horseback riding may be effective in easing PTSD symptoms in military veterans.

Veterans had a significant decrease in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) scores just weeks after undertaking a therapeutic riding program, research has found.

The results of the University of Missouri study show that therapeutic horseback riding may be clinically effective in easing PTSD symptoms in military veterans.

“PTSD is an anxiety disorder that occurs after exposure to life-threatening events or injuries and is marked by flashbacks, avoidance, and changes in beliefs and feelings,” says Rebecca Johnson, a professor in the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

“Estimates are that more than 23 million military veterans experience PTSD symptoms each year.

“While counseling and behavior therapies often are prescribed, sometimes clinicians will encourage complementary therapies, such as therapeutic horseback riding. We wanted to test whether therapeutic horse riding could be a useful complementary therapy in the treatment of PTSD.”

The interaction between horses and riders has been demonstrated to increase riders’ confidence, self-esteem, sensory sensitivity and social motivation while decreasing stress.

For the study, 29 military veterans were assessed for eligibility from a nearby Veterans Administration hospital. Those diagnosed with PTSD, or PTSD with traumatic brain injury, were invited to take part in a therapeutic horseback riding program once a week for six weeks.

PTSD symptoms then were measured both at three weeks and six weeks into the program using the PTSD Checklist-Military Version assessment, a 20-item self-reporting survey used by clinicians to gauge PTSD symptoms.

Additionally, other measurement instruments were used to assess improvements made in the treatment of the anxiety disorders.

“Results showed that participants in the program experienced a significant decrease in PTSD scores, almost 67 percent, after just three weeks of therapeutic horse riding,” Johnson says.

“After six weeks, participants experienced an 87 percent drop in PTSD scores.

“Interestingly, the veterans who self-identified for the study all were from the Vietnam War era, meaning that some of these military veterans had been experiencing PTSD symptoms for 40 or 50 years.”

It may, she says, be important for health care systems to support therapeutic horse-riding as a viable complimentary therapy.”

The article, “Effects of therapeutic horseback riding on post-traumatic stress disorder in military veterans,” was published in Military Medical Research. Support was provided by the Harry S Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital.

Reporting: Jeff Sossamon
Earlier Horsetalk report

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