A Hartpury University postgraduate research project carried out jointly with Sirona Therapeutic Horsemanship (STH) has underlined the benefits of equine-assisted therapy and learning on children and young adults.
MSc Equine Science student Cherith Wilson collaborated on the new study with Devon-based STH to determine the impact of its Equine Assisted Therapy and Learning (EAT/L) programmes and to help inform industry practice.
The EAT/L programmes at STH, one of a number of programmes offered by the charity, are undertaken by young people aged from six to 19.
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.
Cherith said: “The EAT/L programmes were found to significantly increase participants’ pre and post self-assessment wellbeing scores by nearly 70 per cent (Wilcoxon signed-rank test).
“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.”
STH target their service towards the most at-risk group to develop mental health issues, including children aged 6-19.
These children can be referred to STH via many different avenues, including social services, schools, mental health and learning disability referrers as well as parental referrals.
Hannah Burgon, CEO and founder of Sirona Therapeutic Horsemanship, said: “It has been a fantastic opportunity to have been involved in a collaborative research project with Hartpury University.
“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, chair of trustees for Sirona Therapeutic Horsemanship, added: “Cherith has provided much valuable and positive information and feedback about our 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."
All research activity at Hartpury – the world’s largest equine educational institution – either directly or indirectly informs not only current industry practice but also the curriculum.
Equine research students at Hartpury University have access to a wide range of state-of-the-art equipment and laboratories to support their studies.
The facilities within the Equine Therapy Centre and the Margaret Giffen Centre for Rider Performance enable biomechanical and physiological studies of both horse and rider.
Recent equine graduates from Hartpury, which offers a range of equine-related diplomas, undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, and PhDs, have embarked on careers with a number of major employers, including Cheltenham Racecourse, the Hong Kong Jockey Club and The Horse Trust.
Picture: Cherith Wilson at Sirona Therapeutic Horsemanship