A recent study that found therapeutic riding had a positive impact on veterans with post-traumatic stress (PTSD) or traumatic brain injuries is being praised by advocates of equine-assisted therapy.
The study, “Effects of therapeutic horseback riding on military veteran’s posttraumatic stress disorder,” was published in the January, 2018, issue of the Military Medical Research Journal.
Conducted by the University of Missouri, the study found that veterans who rode once a week for six weeks showed “statistically significant decreases” in their PTSD symptoms, which can include anxiety, flashbacks, and emotional numbing.
“Estimates are that more than 23 million military veterans experience PTSD symptoms each year,” Rebecca Johnson, a professor in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine and the Millsap Professor of Gerontological Nursing in the Sinclair School of Nursing said in a statement. “While counseling and behavior therapies often are prescribed, sometimes clinicians will encourage complementary therapies, such as therapeutic horseback riding. We wanted to test whether THR [therapeutic horseback riding] could be a useful complementary therapy in the treatment of PTSD.”
Authors of the study concluded therapeutic riding “may be a clinically effective intervention for alleviating PTSD symptoms in military veterans.”
“Results showed that participants in the program experienced a significant decrease in PTSD scores, almost 67 percent, after just three weeks of THR,” Johnson said. “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 be important for health care systems to support THR as a viable complimentary therapy.”
The study was funded by the Horses and Humans Research Foundation (HHRF), a group that seeks to advance knowledge of horse-human interactions and the impact on health and wellness.
The HHRF said the study highlighted what professional therapeutic riding instructors and center participants already suspected about the impact of horses on those suffering from PTSD. The findings are especially important now, the group said in a statement, when the country urgently seeks methods to support veterans in need.
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