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Effects of therapeutic horseback riding on post-traumatic stress disorder in military veterans

By Rebecca A Johnson, David L. Albright, James R. Marzolf, Jessica L. Bibbo, Hayley D. Yaglom, Sandra M. Crowder, Gretchen Carlisle, Amy Willard, Cynthia L. Russell, Karen Grindler, Steven Osterlind, Marita Wassman, Nathan Harms

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Large numbers of post-deployment U.S. veterans are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or traumatic brain injury (TBI), leading to an urgent need for effective interventions to reduce symptoms and increase veterans’ coping. PTSD includes anxiety, flashbacks, and emotional numbing. The symptoms increase health care costs for stress-related illnesses and can make veterans’ civilian life difficult.


We used a randomized wait-list controlled design with repeated measures of U.S. military veterans to address our specific aim to test the efficacy of a 6-week therapeutic horseback riding (THR) program for decreasing PTSD symptoms and increasing coping self-efficacy, emotion regulation, social and emotional loneliness.

Fifty-seven participants were recruited and 29 enrolled in the randomized trial. They were randomly assigned to either the horse riding group (n = 15) or a wait-list control group (n = 14). The wait-list control group experienced a 6-week waiting period, while the horse riding group began THR. The wait-list control group began riding after 6 weeks of participating in the control group.

Demographic and health history information was obtained from all the participants. PTSD symptoms were measured using the standardized PTSD Checklist-Military Version (PCL-M).

The PCL-M as well as other instruments including, The Coping Self Efficacy Scale (CSES), The Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale (DERS) and The Social and Emotional Loneliness Scale for Adults-short version (SELSA) were used to access different aspects of individual well-being and the PTSD symptoms.


Participants had a statistically significant decrease in PTSD scores after 3 weeks of THR (P ≤ 0.01) as well as a statistically and clinically significant decrease after 6 weeks of THR (P ≤ 0.01). Logistic regression showed that participants had a 66.7% likelihood of having lower PTSD scores at 3 weeks and 87.5% likelihood at 6 weeks. Under the generalized linear model(GLM), our ANOVA findings for the coping self-efficacy, emotion regulation, and social and emotional loneliness did not reach statistical significance. The results for coping self-efficacy and emotion regulation trended in the predicted direction. Results for emotional loneliness were opposite the predicted direction. Logistic regression provided validation that outcome effects were caused by riding longer.


The findings suggest that THR may be a clinically effective intervention for alleviating PTSD symptoms in military veterans.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Publication Title Military Medical Research
Volume 5
Issue 3
Pages 13
ISBN/ISSN 2054-9369
Publisher BMC
DOI 10.1186/s40779-018-0149-6
Language English
Additional Language English
  1. Animal-assisted interventions
  2. Animal-assisted therapies
  3. Animal roles
  4. Coping
  5. Emotions
  6. Horses
  7. Mammals
  8. open access
  9. peer-reviewed
  10. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
  11. Therapeutic horsemanship
  12. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
  13. veterans
  1. open access
  2. peer-reviewed