Equine Assisted Therapy for Patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Case Series Study

Mil Med. 2019 Oct 1;184(9-10):394-399. doi: 10.1093/milmed/usz036.


Introduction: Equine assisted therapy (EAT) which includes therapeutic horseback riding (THR), grooming, horsemanship and ground level work with horses, has been studied as treatment for children with special needs and/or autistic spectrum disorder. Preliminary evidence indicates that EAT is also effective for improving self-efficacy and self-esteem in adults with psychiatric disorders. Empowerment, bonding and building trust with the horses, may promote functioning of patients struggling with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).The authors performed a prospective, pilot open case series study to assess the effect of EAT on patients with PTSD in terms of symptoms and functioning in work, family and social interaction.

Methods: Patients with PTSD received EAT once a week for 3 consecutive hours for 6 months. The Short Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Rating Interview (SPRINT) and the Sheehan Disability Scale (SDS) were assessed at baseline, the SDS after 1 and 6 months, and the SPRINT after 6 months.

Results: Thirteen of 23 participants completed the study. Ten participants withdrew from the study for various reasons including discomfort from horses. Total SPRINT scores showed a statistically significant improvement in PTSD symptoms (baseline vs. 6 months: 24.38 ± 6.4 vs. 21.54 ± 7.94 points; p < 0.05). SPRINT scores indicated improvement in the ability to work and perform daily tasks (p < 0.05). A statistically significant improvement in the total SDS score was revealed following 1 month (p < 0.03) and after 6 months (p < 0.02) of EAT. There was also a significant decline in the days of inefficiency (baseline vs. 6 months: 4.15 ± 2.73 vs, 1.88 ± 2.18 days per week, p < 0.02).

Conclusion: This preliminary pilot open case series study suggests that EAT may be a beneficial treatment for patients suffering from PTSD. The study demonstrated improved ability to work and perform daily tasks and reduction in the number of days of inefficiency. Further large-scale long-term studies are warranted to substantiate our observation.

Keywords: PTSD; equine assisted therapy; posttraumatic stress disorder; therapeutic horseback riding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Equine-Assisted Therapy / methods*
  • Equine-Assisted Therapy / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Horses / psychology
  • Humans
  • Israel
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychometrics / instrumentation
  • Psychometrics / methods
  • Psychometrics / statistics & numerical data
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome