Therapeutic horseback riding for at-risk adolescents in residential care

Child Adolesc Psychiatry Ment Health. 2022 Nov 23;16(1):90. doi: 10.1186/s13034-022-00523-5.


Background: Over the past two decades, a large body of research has focused on the contribution of equine-assisted therapies to positive psychological changes in at-risk adolescents. The current study aimed to explore the subjective experiences of therapeutic horseback riding (THR, a type of equine-assisted therapy) among at-risk adolescents and examine how they describe the psychological benefits and the mechanisms of change of a THR intervention.

Methods: This qualitative study focused on at-risk adolescents living in residential care. In-depth interviews were conducted with 19 adolescents.

Results: Thematic analysis revealed three themes: (a) participants' presentation, (b) the benefits of riding as a mechanism of change in the THR intervention, and (c) the benefits of the relationship with the horse as a mechanism of change in the THR intervention.

Conclusions: The results of this study emphasize that the riding process and the relationship with the horse are the core mechanisms of THR interventions for at-risk adolescents and provide various psychological, behavioral, and relational benefits. Self-determination theory (SDT) is a relevant framework through which to explore at-risk adolescents' subjective experiences of THR intervention and reveal its benefits for them.

Keywords: At-risk adolescents; Autonomy; Self-determination theory; Sense of competence; Therapeutic horseback riding.