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Randomized Controlled Trial
. 2015 Jul;54(7):541-9.
doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2015.04.007. Epub 2015 May 5.

Randomized Controlled Trial of Therapeutic Horseback Riding in Children and Adolescents With Autism Spectrum Disorder

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Free PMC article
Randomized Controlled Trial

Randomized Controlled Trial of Therapeutic Horseback Riding in Children and Adolescents With Autism Spectrum Disorder

Robin L Gabriels et al. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

Objective: This study expands previous equine-assisted intervention research by evaluating the effectiveness of therapeutic horseback riding (THR) on self-regulation, socialization, communication, adaptive, and motor behaviors in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Method: Participants with ASD (aged 6-16 years; N = 127) were stratified by nonverbal IQ standard scores (≤85 or >85) and randomized to 1 of 2 groups for 10 weeks: THR intervention or a barn activity (BA) control group without horses that used similar methods. The fidelity of the THR intervention was monitored. Participants were evaluated within 1 month pre- and postintervention by raters blinded to intervention conditions and unblinded caregiver questionnaires. During the intervention, caregivers rated participants' behaviors weekly.

Results: Intent-to-treat analysis conducted on the 116 participants who completed a baseline assessment (THR n = 58; BA control n = 58) revealed significant improvements in the THR group compared to the control on measures of irritability (primary outcome) (p = .02; effect size [ES] = 0.50) and hyperactivity (p = .01; ES = 0.53), beginning by week 5 of the intervention. Significant improvements in the THR group were also observed on a measure of social cognition (p = .05; ES = 0.41) and social communication (p = .003; ES = 0.63), along with the total number of words (p = .01; ES = 0.54) and new words (p = .01; ES = 0.54) spoken during a standardized language sample. Sensitivity analyses adjusting for age, IQ, and per protocol analyses produced consistent results.

Conclusion: This is the first large-scale, randomized, controlled trial demonstrating efficacy of THR for the ASD population, and findings are consistent with previous equine-assisted intervention studies.

Clinical trial registration information: Trial of Therapeutic Horseback Riding in Children and Adolescents With Autism Spectrum Disorder; http://clinicaltrials.gov; NCT02301195.

Keywords: autism spectrum disorder; equine-assisted activities and therapies; human-animal interaction; social-communication functioning; therapeutic horseback riding.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
Therapeutic horseback riding (THR) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD): participant flowchart. Note: ADOS = Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule; BA = barn activity; ITT = intent to treat. a Eligible for ITT analysis; b Eligible for per protocol analysis.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Time course of Aberrant Behavior Checklist-Community (ABC-C) subscale scores during the course of the 10-week therapeutic horseback riding (THR) intervention. Note: SEM = standard error of the mean.

Comment in

  • The Alone Rangers and Silver.
    Arnold LE. Arnold LE. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2015 Jul;54(7):535-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2015.04.010. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2015. PMID: 26088655 No abstract available.

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