Therapeutic riding is a benefit for patients, horses do not cause unnecessary problems – study

File image of Makena G

The therapy work does not pose any unnecessary animal welfare problems for horses, as the results of a pilot study show.

María Dolores Ayala and her research colleagues wanted to investigate how horse-assisted therapy affects welfare-related physiological parameters and behavior in horses and patients.

During nine or ten horse-assisted therapy sessions, welfare indicators were examined in two horses and three patients with psychomotor changes.

Heart and respiratory rate, blood pressure, temperature and behavioral signs were examined in the horses.

Heart rate, oxygen saturation, temperature, psychomotor and emotional parameters were analyzed in the patients. The quality of sleep was also rated.

Data was collected in the look-ahead phase (the 15 minutes before the start of each session), two interaction phases (after 30 minutes of horse-patient interaction on the ground and then on horseback) and the recovery phase (the 15 minutes after). at the end of the session).

Increases in most of the patients’ physiological parameters were noted during the anticipation phase, with more stress symptoms also being observed in the horses.

This was followed by a relaxation phase for both the horses and the patients during their interactions on the ground. In the subsequent riding phase, the horses’ heart and breathing rates rose again. These decreased during the recovery phase.

The patients maintained a relaxed state with low heart rate values ​​during the driving phase.

The researchers write in the journal animals, were satisfied that the horses apparently did not experience any stress due to the therapy sessions, but only an increase in their measured parameters in connection with activity and external stimuli.

The horse’s responses were no different from those evoked by activities or external stimuli, they said.

A certain anticipatory stress with an increased heart rate was observed in the three patients, but they relaxed during the interactive phases on the ground and on horseback.

The patients showed therapy-related improvements in their fine and gross motor skills as well as the parameters relating to cognitive, emotional and affective-social areas. The benefits to patients had a positive impact on their families’ quality of life, the researchers said.

“The quality of sleep also improved on the therapy days,” they said.

The horse’s findings, together with the well-being that horse-assisted therapy evokes in patients, justify its use and demonstrate its usefulness as a complementary therapy in therapeutic programs.

Horse assisted therapy work does not seem to harm horses’ welfare as long as their ethological characteristics are respected and their health is kept in good condition, they added.

“However, more studies with a higher number of horses and patients are necessary, as well as further studies that enable classification based on the patient profile.”

They said it was also necessary to complement the analysis of physiological and behavioral parameters with hormonal studies in order to establish a good correlation and better understanding of the emotional response in horses and patients.

The study team consisted of Ayala and Andrea Carrillo from the University of Murcia in Spain; and Pilar Iniesta and Pedro Ferrer with the Centauro-Quirón Foundation.

Ayala, MD; Carrillo, A .; Iniesta, P .; Ferrer, P. Pilot study of the influence of horse-assisted therapy on physiological and behavioral parameters related to the well-being of horses and patients. Animals 2021, 11, 3527.

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here.

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