It’s safe to say that we at Clearview are big fans of equine therapy. More than fans of animal-based treatment, we are also practitioners and include it in our evidence-based treatment regimen. 

That said, whenever we stumble upon the many clinical studies that support the validity of equine therapy, we feel obligated to share it with our online community and parents of troubled teenage girls who come to our site looking for answers to their child’s behavioral and mental health-related issues. 

The following article, which Horsetalk originally reported on Co NZ, is about an illuminating study into the emotional connection between horses and humans and the positive impact interacting with horses can have on adolescents. 

New Study Finds Horses Help in the Development of Emotionally Well-Adjusted Teenagers

New Study Finds Horses Help in the Development of Emotionally Well-Adjusted Teenagers

A recent study titled, How Equine-Assisted Activities Affect the Prosocial Behavior of Adolescents, published in the scholarly science journal MDPI, found that interacting with horses profoundly impacts the development of emotionally, well-adjusted adolescents. 

According to the study conducted by Imre Zoltan Pelva and several of his colleagues, children who don’t have contact with horses and those who do have a profound impact on their emotional development and proclivity to be well-adjusted and mentally healthy.

For their research, Dr. Pelyva studied a group of healthy teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18. The teen volunteers were non-disabled and without special educational needs or mental health-related issues.

Those with contact with horses attended 10 agricultural secondary schools in Hungary. They all took part in a four-year equine program. These students had no diagnosed physical or psychological difficulties.

Students within the four-year equine program spent approximately two days for a total of 13 hours each week with horses. Similar to that of equine therapy programs, the students spent their allotted time taking care of the horses. This included daily chores such as grooming and feeding the horses, and cleaning their stables.  

The students also worked with the horses on the lunge, from the saddle, and also participated in carriage driving. 

The study also included a control group that included teenage students from the same school who did not participate in equine-related activities. These students studied vocational studies that involved agricultural and food industry vocations. 

To set things off, the researchers evaluated both groups, 525 students in all. In their assessment, the research team provided the students with a questionnaire designed to gauge their emotional, mental, and behavioral health. 

The results of both groups’ assessments were then compared. According to their findings (later published in the Environmental Research and Public Health Journal), the group that regularly interacted with horses scored four times higher than the control group. 

As to why the equestrian group’s mental health scores so heavily outweighed that of the control groups,’ the researchers surmised that it could have something to do with the prosocial behavior that one conducts while taking care of the horses, as well as the co-operation, sharing, and volunteering that came with it.  

The study team characterized the differences as remarkable from the University of Pécs and the University of Szeged in Hungary.

“Our results indicate that students of equine-related vocations are more helpful and empathetic, and have fewer behavior problems than those studying other vocations.

The equestrian group of teens was found to have fewer emotional issues and behavioral problems stemming from a lack of mental health. 

What’s more, the equine group was also found to have fewer problems relating to their school work. Contrariwise, the control group (who did not have any interaction with horses whatsoever) was found to have a significantly higher number of students who were failing their classes or had behavioral issues in school. 

“On the other hand, the fact that the decline of behavior problems is more remarkable in the equine group than in the control group suggests that equine-assisted activities might play a role in strengthening prosocial skills. “At the same time, this knowledge (that is, understanding equine communication and behavior) is also essential just to be able to work safely and effectively with these animals. This means that no therapeutic goals are needed to teach students to pay attention to and respect horses — it is the basis of all equine interactions in professional environments.”

The researchers also point out that simply interacting with horses is not responsible for emotional development to take place. Rather, interacting with horses under the direction of a professional was most likely the catalyst for developing prosocial behaviors.  

The Implications of This Study and The Treatment of Troubled Youth 

This study, and many others like it, provide evidence that equine therapy can profoundly impact the lives of troubled youth. Expert proponents of equine therapy suggest that, like the group of equestrian students in the study, troubled youth can develop much-needed prosocial behaviors and emotions by engaging in equine therapy.  

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