Canadian researcher Dr Laurie McDuffee has been awarded a $50,000 grant from the Horses and Humans Research Foundation to study the psychophysiological effects of equine-assisted therapy on horses and in veterans with PTSD.
The project by McDuffee and her team from Atlantic Veterinary College, University of Prince Edward Island, will explore the efficacy of equine-facilitated psychotherapy (EFP) on human-horse dyads through changes in measures of stress hormones and Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.
Building on previous research, this study “psychophysiological effects of equine-assisted therapy on horses and in veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)” will explore the impact of an eight-week therapy program that partners horses to alleviate stress in veterans diagnosed with PTSD.
Researchers will collect data from humans and horses that measure stress using both physical (i.e. cortisol, oxytocin, heart rate data, and standardized assessment) and standardized psychological tests. Together these measures will enable the researchers to better understand how the horse-assisted therapy program influences the recovery of veterans diagnosed with PTSD and related mental health symptoms (i.e. anxiety and depression). Sixteen veterans will receive eight weeks of therapy (once per week) consisting of grooming and leading a horse under the direction of a registered psychologist. Self-reported information about PTSD symptoms, anxiety, and depression will be assessed at the start of the program, after week four of the program, at the end of the program, and two months following the program.
Saliva and blood samples will be taken from veterans and horses during each session. Data analysis will compare data collected at each point in the therapy program. This study will be unique in that data will be collected from humans and horses at the same time to better understand the human-horse relationship during therapy.
Pam Cusick, president of the board of the Horses and Humans Research Foundation, said the organisation was excited about the study, as it included both physiological measures and standardized psychological tests.
“These measures will provide depth to the understanding of the horse-human relationship and we eagerly anticipate the results.”
The study was expected to take place between January and August, 2020, with the findings to be presented in early to mid-2021.
McDuffee is a Board Certified Large Animal Surgeon with 29 years of experience as an equine
veterinarian and researcher. Her current research is focused on Comparative Wellness with an
emphasis on horses.
William J. Montelpare, PhD, a research chair in human development and health, will be responsible for leading the human aspect of the research. Registered psychologist Caroline LeBlanc will lead the equine-assisted therapy, Angela Riveroll, PhD, will lead the laboratory aspects of the research, and James M. Thompson, MD, will assist with study design and interpretation of the findings.