From the Journals

Therapeutic horseback riding may lower veterans’ PTSD symptoms



Veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder might benefit from therapeutic horseback riding, a small study suggests.

“Our findings provide empirical evidence that [therapeutic horseback riding] is effective at improving coping skills and in lessening one’s difficulty with emotional regulation, especially with longer riding interventions,” wrote Rebecca A. Johnson, PhD, of the University of Missouri, Columbia, and her associates.

A man stands with his horse val_shep/Thinkstock
To conduct the study – which used a wait-list control design – Dr. Johnson and her team recruited individuals identified through electronic medical records of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The veterans had diagnoses of PTSD, or PTSD and traumatic brain injury, and lived within 50 miles of the therapeutic horseback riding site, Dr. Johnson and her associates reported (Mil Med Res. 2018 Jan 19. doi: 10.1186/s40779-018-0149-6).

Overall, 57 veterans were recruited and 28 enrolled in the randomized trial at baseline. Those individuals were randomized into two groups: a wait-list control group and a treatment group. Eventually, all of the veterans participated in the therapeutic riding program. Meanwhile, the riding center staff were not aware of which veterans had been assigned to either group. The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, a nonprofit group that promotes equine-related activities for people with special needs, selected the horses that were used in the study. During the data collection periods, PTSD symptoms were measured via the PTSD Checklist–Military Version, or PCL-M. This self-report measure asks patients about problems in response to “stressful military experiences,” the researchers wrote. The Coping Self-Efficacy Scale and the Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale were among the other instruments used.

While riding, the results showed, participants had a statistically significant decrease in PTSD symptoms over the course of the 6-week program. “Overall, participants had an 81.8% likelihood of improvement in PTSD levels,” Dr. Johnson and her associates wrote. “Further detailed examination showed that participants had a 66.7% likelihood of having lower PTSD scores at 3 weeks, and an 87.5% likelihood at 6 weeks.”

Anecdotally, some of the veterans wanted to continue therapeutic riding after the end of the program, and they were able to do so.

“We conclude that [therapeutic horseback riding] shows promise as a beneficial intervention for veterans with PTSD, but did not measure functional ability,” they wrote.

Next Article: