Study finds horse therapy helps patients focus, feel positive

Although some people may think of horses as large, intimidating animals, a pilot project done by Saskatchewan researchers has found working with horses has helped people on their road to healing.

Pilot project looked at how horses help people on their road to healing

The study began in 2014 and collected feedback from 60 clients taking part in horse therapy through four addiction and mental health treatment sites in the province. (Submitted by Cartier Farms Equine Assisted Learning Program)

Although some people may think of horses as large, intimidating animals, a pilot project done by Saskatchewan researchers has found working with horses has helped people on their road to healing.

The study began in 2014 and collected feedback from 60 clients of four addiction and mental health treatment sites in the province. The feedback was based on nearly 300 sessions with therapy horses.

"Across all the programs … participants all commented on or reported a sense of happiness," said Darlene Chalmers, an assistant social work professor at the University of Regina campus in Saskatoon.

The study on horse therapy was done following separate research that looked at therapy dogs, and how people who interacted with the dogs felt love and support. (Submitted by Cartier Farms Equine Assisted Learning Program)

"They also reported a connection with the horses and that connection was discussed or shared in relation to feeling a sense of love, and feeling supported by the horses but also the facilitator of the program."

Chalmers said the study was done following separate research that looked at therapy dogs, and how people who interacted with the dogs felt love and support.

"That prompted us to think about how might that look in programs where horses are part of that therapeutic action."

Chalmers said horses are attuned to their environment, and the study found that the animals quickly engaged with the clients.

Patients reported feeling more positive, and being able to focus better.

Patients reported feeling more positive and being able to focus better after their interactions with the horses. (Submitted by Cartier Farms Equine Assisted Learning Program)

Chalmers, along with researcher Colleen Dell of the University of Saskatchewan, are now looking at developing a larger study to look at the subject further. 

About the Author

Courtney Markewich

After spending five years in radio, Courtney Markewich joined CBC Saskatoon in 2016. She is currently a Social Media News Editor/Presenter for @CBCSask and @CBCSaskatoon.

With files from CBC Radio's Afternoon Edition