The benefits of equine-assisted therapy and learning to young people have been highlighted in a recent study in England, with jumps recorded in the participants’ well-being scores.
The Hartpury University postgraduate research project was carried out jointly with Devon-based Sirona Therapeutic Horsemanship. Its equine-assisted therapy and learning programmes are among several offered by the charity.
MSc Equine Science student Cherith Wilson undertook the study to determine the impact of its equine assisted therapy and learning programmes and to help inform industry practice.
Normally held over 12 weeks, the programmes aim to improve participants’ confidence, calmness, communication, resilience and positivity.
Weekly sessions enable participants to interact closely with horses through a range of equine-based activities, including learning about horse behaviour, grooming and horse care, and horse agility, that suit a diverse number of needs.
The study, comprising 124 children and young adults and 96 caregivers, used a mixed-method approach incorporating quantitative questionnaire data to assess the impact of the programme in these five areas.
Wilson reported that participants’ self-assessment wellbeing scores, using the Wilcoxon signed-rank test, increased by nearly 70 per cent compared to scores beforehand.
“Participants felt they had improved in the five areas assessed: confidence, calmness, communication, resilience and positivity.
“Qualitatively, participants discussed their relationship with the horse as calm, happy, relaxed and loved.
“They discussed learning horsemanship and communication skills throughout the programme.
“Increased confidence and improved relationships were identified as positive impacts of the programme on the participants’ lives.
“The participants caregivers’ feedback validated these findings and described the changes in participants as a result of the programme from scared and anxious to calm and confident.”
The charity targets its service towards the most at-risk groups for developing mental health issues, including children aged 6-19.
These children can be referred via many different avenues, including social services, schools, mental health and learning disability referrers as well as parental referrals.
Hannah Burgon, its chief executive and founder, said the collaborative research project had been a fantastic opportunity.
“Cherith’s study looking at the benefits of equine-assisted therapy and learning with disadvantaged young people is a valuable addition to the research into the growing field of therapeutic interaction with horses.
“We very much hope to develop the partnership between Hartpury University and Sirona further in the future.”
Sarah Urwin, the chair of trustees for the charity, said Wilson’s work had provided much valuable and positive information and feedback about the group’s work with young people.
“Her efforts with this project have resulted in the production of an excellent document which, over the coming years, will help our team build on the services Sirona offer to all participants.”