Effects of Horsemanship Training on Psychophysiological Health and Perceptions of Quality of Life among Military Veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Oral presentation paper on Equine Therapy

International Society for Anthrozoology
Gehrke, E.K., Myers. M., Jiménez, J.A., Ranke, P
Presentation Date: 
Monday, July 10, 2017
Event or Conference: 
International Society for Anthrozoology Annual Meeting
Presentation Type: 
Paper Presentation
Presentation Location: 
Many combat veterans face problems associated with transitioning from military to civilian life. Problems include difficulties with communication, difficulty developing strong emotional bonds, resolving trust issues, gaining confidence, and reducing anger and anxiety. Lack of support for veterans transitioning from a combat role to a civilian role results in individuals who constantly maintain an edge, and who can, in a given moment overact. When they do receive treatment many are prescribed anti-depressants and other medications to reduce symptoms without probing deeper into alternative approaches to dealing with the impact of Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). There is a need for more integrative medicine approaches to addressing this problem that treat the psycho-social and embodied aspects of veterans “re-booting” into civilian life after several tours of combat. Such approaches include horsemanship training with the goal to help veterans empower themselves better both physically and mentally. Making a heart connection with a horse has proven to reduce anxiety and improves optimistic outlooks on life. This study shares the outcome of an initial pilot study of six combat veterans living in Veterans Village of San Diego, a residential treatment facility in San Diego, participating in an eight-week horsemanship program -The Heart of Horsemanship. The study assessed quality of life indicators of veterans in the horsemanship program. The IRB approved research addressed questions: 1) does horsemanship training with veterans lead to a balance in the autonomic nervous system (ANS) as measured by Heart Rate Variability (HRV); and, 2) does horsemanship training lead to a self-perceived improvement in quality of life. The program included horsemanship skills involved in haltering, grooming, leading, and riding. During these activities, HRV was monitored pre and post of each session. HRV analysis has become a measure to assess whether human-horse interactions improve psychosocial well-being. The preliminary findings indicate a sustained reduction in sympathetic activity in the ANS. Each week participants completed the PANAS, a self-reporting measure of positive and negative affect to determine perceived anxiety reduction and confidence building. Results of the PANAS showed a 99.66% improvement in positive affect. Veterans commented on improved ability to adjust to civilian life.