The Science Behind Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies


I'm a strong advocate of the benefits of therapeutic riding and having the research to support its effects makes it even more powerful as an industry. While there are many more studies published than the ones I’m going to talk about, here are a few that show improvements in a few major populations that are served in the therapeutic riding industry.

ADHD is one of the most prevalent disorders in school-aged children and is characterized by age-inapprapriate focus and impulsiveness, as well as decreased motor coordination. A study was completed on 22 individuals diagnosed with ADHD. They underwent 12 weeks of Equine-Assisted Activities and Therapies (EAAT) sessions and their progress was measured based on nationally recognized methods of quantifying ADHD characteristics. After the study, it was found that there was a significant improvement in inattentive and hyperactive behaviors. There was also a significant improvement in manual dexterity and manual coordination within these individuals.

Another diagnosis that is seen often in the therapeutic riding community is autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This neurodevelopmental disorder is often accompanied by social interaction deficits, obsessive behaviors and interests, and motor planning difficulties. 6 months of lessons were given to 25 individuals. Each lesson included mounted and unmounted portions, and progress was measured over time. At the conclusion of the study, it was found that there was significant improvement in socialization skills, motor abilities, and executive functioning, further supporting the use of EAAT as an effective intervention in ASD.

The third and final diagnoses that I am going to focus on are anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Both of these psychological issues share a high degree of emotional distress. A 6 week EAAT program was designed for the participants that involved unmounted activities focusing on the coping of stressful and challenging situations. After the study, improvement was found in PTSD symptoms, emotional distress, alcohol use, and anxiety.

These studies show exciting and promising evidence for the EAAT industry. As more research stands behind it, EAAT becomes a stronger and more viable field.



Borgi, M., Loliva, D., Cerino, S., Chiarotti, F., Venerosi, A., Bramini, M., … Cirulli, F. (2016). Effectiveness of a Standardized Equine-Assisted Therapy Program for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 46(1), 1–9.

Jang, B., Song, J., Kim, J., Kim, S., Lee, J., Shin, H.-Y., … Joung, Y.-S. (2015). Equine-Assisted Activities and Therapy for Treating Children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (New York, N.Y.), 21(9), 546–553.

Polusny, M. A., Ries, B. J., Schultz, J. R., Calhoun, P., Clemensen, L., & Johnsen, I. R. (2008). Equine-Assisted Therapy for Anxiety and Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 21(1), 75–82.