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. 2018 Jul 16;5:156.
doi: 10.3389/fvets.2018.00156. eCollection 2018.

Long-Term Effect of Therapeutic Horseback Riding in Youth With Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Randomized Trial

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Long-Term Effect of Therapeutic Horseback Riding in Youth With Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Randomized Trial

Robin L Gabriels et al. Front Vet Sci. .
Free PMC article


This paper presents 6-month follow-up data of 44% (N = 64/116) of participants (ages 6-16 years) with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, who participated in a previously-published randomized controlled trial of therapeutic horseback riding (THR) compared to a no-horse contact active control. The objective of this study was to examine whether significant improvements of irritability, hyperactivity, social, and communication behaviors observed in participants randomized to receive a 10-week manual-based THR intervention were sustained 6 months after the intervention conclusion. Participants' caregivers from both the THR (n = 36) and active control (n = 28) groups completed a measure of irritability and hyperactivity behaviors (primary outcome variables). Additionally, only the THR group participants completed the full battery of study outcomes assessments. Between group comparisons examining the extended interval from baseline (1-month pre-intervention assessment) to 6-months after the intervention revealed that the THR group maintained reductions in irritability behavior at a 0.1 level (effect size = 0.32, p = 0.07). (Effect size = 0.32, p = 0.07), which was 73% of efficacy preserved from the primary post-intervention endpoint (within 1-month post-intervention). Hyperactivity behaviors did not sustain this same trend. Comparisons from baseline and 6-months after the intervention revealed that the THR group sustained significant initial improvements made in social and communication behaviors, along with number of words and different words spoken during a standard language sample. This is the first known study to examine and demonstrate the longer-term effects of THR for individuals with ASD and warrants a more thorough evaluation of whether the effects of THR are maintained for at least 6-months after the intervention compared to a control.

Clinical trial registration information: Trial of Therapeutic Horseback Riding in Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder;; NCT02301195.

Keywords: animal-assisted interventions; autism spectrum; irritability; long-term outcomes; therapeutic horseback riding.


Figure 1
Figure 1
Profile of irritability (IRR) and hyperactivity (HYP) over three assessment periods. Note, the typical clinical threshold for the ABC-C irritability subscale is >14–16 in psychopharmacology clinical trials for the ASD population [e.g., (27, 28)].
Figure 2
Figure 2
Mean scores at baseline, post-intervention and 6 months after THR.

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