RESEARCH 

How is the Man O’ War Project Different From Other Forms of Equine-Assisted Therapy?

While many groups offer equine-assisted therapy (EAT) and claim positive results, the reality is that EAT is not well studied and its efficacy for PTSD, or any other condition, has not been clinically established.

The primary aim of the Man O’ War Project at Columbia University Irving Medical Center is to provide evidence based research on the efficacy of Equine-Assisted Therapy for veterans with PTSD. To this end, the team has created and will publish a standardized 100-page treatment manual. Unlike other programs, the Man O’ War project provides this experiential treatment within a structure and a comprehensive assessment to track progress.

In addition, to incorporate the highest levels of scientific rigor, the Man O’ War project research team utilizes state-of-the-art Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to further validate and strengthen the clinical data of the research.

Why Horses Are Helpful In Treating PTSD:

  • Horses are prey animals and naturally skittish (hypervigilant), presenting an opportunity for veterans to recognize and understand fear responses.
  • Horses are naturally sensitive to verbal and nonverbal cues, and thus provide good feedback to the veterans about how they are communicating.
  • Horses are herd animals, who live in a social structure and seek out social relationships.
  • Horses exist “in the moment,” and are forgiving, patient and nonjudgmental, allowing opportunities for veterans to make mistakes and learn from them.
  • Unlike dogs, who grant love unconditionally, relationships with horses must be earned. One must build trust with a horse for it to welcome you into its world. Through EAT, veterans re-learn how to build trust and how to trust themselves again – valuable tools to help veterans succeed with family, work and social relationships.
  • EAT isn’t simply about making veterans “feel better,” it’s about helping them increase emotional awareness and the ability to regulate their emotions.

OUR TREATMENT STUDY IS CONDUCTED AT THE BERGEN EQUESTRIAN CENTER IN LEONIA, NJ.

The study is comprised of:

  • Groups of 3-6 veterans; 2-3 horses
  • State-of-the-art MRI scans conducted prior to and after therapy series
  • Eight (8) 90-minute sessions weekly
  • Veterans guided through series of non-riding interactions with the horse
  • Groups led by mental health professionals and equine specialists, with experienced “wranglers” to ensure safety
  • Veterans complete questionnaires and are clinically assessed regularly
  • All sessions are videotaped and reviewed by research and clinical teams

 Each group begins with an “opening circle” in which the day’s activities are outlined, and ends with a “closing circle” in which the day’s session is discussed. In between the opening and closing circles, the group works together to complete activities with the horses under the guidance of the equine specialist.

The veterans learn how their actions, intentions, expectations and tone have an impact on their relationship with the horses (and ultimately with the people in their lives). Each session builds on the last, and incorporates what the veterans learned the week before.

THE TASKS ARE DESIGNED TO ENCOURAGE PARTICIPANTS TO PROBLEM-SOLVE, TAKE RISKS, USE THEIR OWN STRENGTHS AND CREATIVITY, AND FIND THE SOLUTIONS THAT WILL WORK BEST FOR THEM.

Over the course of treatment, the equine specialist and the mental health professional assist veterans in drawing connections between what the horses may be doing, thinking, or feeling, and their own symptom. Through this process, the veterans increase emotional awareness and the ability to regulate emotions, and learning to more effectively interact with the horses, and by extension, with people in their lives.

Veterans receive follow-up evaluations three months after the treatment to see the long-term effect of EAT for PTSD.