RESEARCH

Click here for Published Research

Equine-Assisted Therapy for Veterans with PTSD: Manual Development and Preliminary Findings

Click here for Published Research

Equine-Assisted Therapy for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Among Military Veterans: An Open Trial
 

Click here for Published Research

Neural changes following equine-assisted therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder: A longitudinal multimodal imaging study

Click Here for Published Research

Equine-Assisted Therapy for Veterans with PTSD: Manual Development and Preliminary Findings

Click Here for Published Research

Equine-Assisted Therapy for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Among Military Veterans: An Open Trial 

Click Here for Published Research

Neural changes following equine-assisted therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder: A longitudinal multimodal imaging study

ADVANCING THE FIELD 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.

AIMS OF THE RESEARCH

  • Undertake research to examine the efficacy of Equine-Assisted Therapy for veterans with PTSD, which incorporates the highest levels of scientific rigor including utilizing state-of-the-art Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to validate and strengthen the clinical data (ACHIEVED)
  • Develop a standardized protocol for delivering group EAT for PTSD (ACHIEVED)
  • Prepare a manual that can be used by the larger field of equine-assisted psychotherapy practitioners (ACHIEVED)
  • Develop a training curriculum for practitioners (UNDERWAY)

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.

The standard protocol we developed (EAT-PTSD):

  • An experiential group treatment (3-6 veterans with 2-3 horses)
  • Eight 90 minute sessions (1 per week, 8 weeks)
  • Led by a team: Licensed Mental Health Professional (MHP) AND an experienced Equine Specialist (ES)
  • “Trauma(s)” leading to PTSD not discussed
  • Sessions take place in a “round pen” or small paddock
  • Everything is on the ground – (veterans undertake a series of non-riding interactions with the horses)
  • Sessions are progressive, build upon one another
  • Sessions begin with an “opening circle” in which the session’s activities are outlined, and end with a “closing circle” in which the day’s session is discussed.
  • The team assist veterans in drawing connections between what the horses may be doing, thinking, or feeling, and their own reactions and emotions, increasing emotional awareness and regulation. 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).

The standard protocol we developed (EAT-PTSD):

  • An experiential group treatment (3-6 veterans with 2-3 horses)
  • Eight 90 minute sessions (1 per week, 8 weeks)
  • Led by a team: Licensed Mental Health Professional (MHP) AND an experienced Equine Specialist (ES)
  • “Trauma(s)” leading to PTSD not discussed
  • Sessions take place in a “round pen” or small paddock
  • Everything is on the ground – (veterans undertake a series of non-riding interactions with the horses)
  • Sessions are progressive, build upon one another
  • Sessions begin with an “opening circle” in which the session’s activities are outlined, and end with a “closing circle” in which the day’s session is discussed.
  • The team assist veterans in drawing connections between what the horses may be doing, thinking, or feeling, and their own reactions and emotions, increasing emotional awareness and regulation. 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).

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

    • This was an open trial — everyone received treatment
    • 63 veterans with PTSD (ages 18 to 70, mean age 50 ) participated — ~ 37% women
    • Veterans completed questionnaires and were clinically assessed regularly by expert raters
    • All sessions were videotaped and reviewed by research and clinical teams
    • Veterans received follow-up evaluations three months after the treatment to see the long-term effect of EAT for PTSD.
    • State-of-the-art brain (MRI)scans conducted prior to and after treatment protocol (n=20)
    • Next step – randomized controlled trial (in planning)

    Results:

    We found EAT to be highly desirable and feasible with 92% of the patients who started the treatment completing the protocol – demonstrating higher retention than most PTSD treatments of any kind

    Treatment was beneficial for both women and men across age groups and military history

    Significant improvement was shown in both PTSD and Depressive symptoms on clinician ratings and self-reports

    Brain imaging (MRI scans) revealed significant structural and functional changes in areas of the brain responsible for reward-seeking and the experience of pleasure  

     

      THREE PAPERS REPORTING ON OUR FINDINGS HAVE BEEN PUBLISHED IN scientific journals

      Results:

      We found EAT to be highly desirable and feasible with 92% of the patients who started the treatment completing the protocol – demonstrating higher retention than most PTSD treatments of any kind

      Treatment was beneficial for both women and men across age groups and military history

      Significant improvement was shown in both PTSD and Depressive symptoms on clinician ratings and self-reports

      Brain imaging (MRI scans) revealed significant structural and functional changes in areas of the brain responsible for reward-seeking and the experience of pleasure 

       

       

         

          THREE PAPERS REPORTING ON OUR FINDINGS HAVE BEEN PUBLISHED IN scientific journals

          Coming Soon -Future Projects and Next Steps