Eight-week trial to investigate use of horse therapy for veterans with PTSD

Researchers are seeking funding for a large eight-week study to investigate the use of horse-related therapies for war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).The study will be conducted by the Equine Science Center at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

The work will focus on the horse-human bond, and how equine-assisted activities and therapies (EAAT) affect both humans and horses during therapy sessions.

“It is important that we are not only able to fund the research that will be conducted, but also cover all costs associated with the veterans who will be volunteering their time for this important cause,” explains center director Dr Karyn Malinowski.

“This will be the first time research conducted with EAAT will measure the same physiological markers of stress and well-being simultaneously in both the horses and veterans.”

The proposed project, to be conducted by PhD candidate Ellen Rankins, will work with the New Jersey veteran population.

“The study will look at how the interactions between the horses and humans, sometimes referred to as a ‘horse/human bond’ affect one another,” Rankins says.

“Not only will data be collected during the trial period, but we will also follow up with the participants to observe how long these changes are sustained over time.”

Rankins is wanting to enlist 120 participants. From this group, 30 combat veterans diagnosed with PTSD will be selected to go through the therapy sessions.

There has already been an outpouring of support for the project, with early supporters including Ronald Dancer, an elected member representing the 12th legislative district in New Jersey’s State Assembly.

Dancer serves on the Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee and is himself a veteran, having served in the United States Army.“Growing up, I saw first-hand the bond between horses and people, myself included, and the good that can come from that connection.“But when we then go to get these types of equine therapies covered by insurance, the first question asked is ‘where is the data, show me the science to prove that this type of therapy works.’“My hope is that the research conducted at the Equine Science Center will be able to scientifically demonstrate the effectiveness of Equine Assisted Activities and Therapy.”

While non-essential research at Rutgers is currently on hold because of the Coronavirus outbreak, the research funding initiative has been launched.

Project partners include the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs; Special Strides located in Monroe, New Jersey (where the therapy sessions will be conducted); the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology at Rutgers University; the Office of Veterans and Military Programs and Services at Rutgers; and the Rutgers Business School – Military and Veteran Engagement Programs.