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Defining the qualities of an equine-facilitated mental health horse or pony : An introductory survey

By Madeline Rose DeBoer

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Equine-facilitated mental health (EFMH) is a practice within equine-assisted therapy (EAT) that has expanded greatly in the last 20 years, but scientific research is still lacking. Thus far, no attempt has been made to characterize the horses and ponies currently used in EFMH programs, or to define what characteristics EFMH professionals look for in selecting EFMH horses/ponies. A 36-question survey was developed to take the first step in exploring those questions. Using survey responses representing 160 EFMH horses and ponies, it was found that most EFMH equines were stock breeds, with the American Quarter Horse being the most common breed. The average height of pony-sized equines was 116 cm and the average height of fullseized equines was 156 cm. Most EFMH horses and ponies had training in Western and/or English riding. Two characteristics that distinguished EFMH equines were age and personality. Eighty-three percent of horses and ponies represented were between the ages of 11 and 25 years, with an average age of 17.1 years. EAT professionals considered “curious,” “tolerant,” “calm,” “sociable,” and “gentle” to be the most desirable personality traits in EFMH equines, and considered “fearful,” “unpredictable,” “anxious,” “excitable,” and “solitary” to be the least desirable personality traits. The results suggested that EFMH horses/ponies are selected for their physical aptitude for mental health work as well as their willingness to form human-animal bonds.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2017
Pages 86
Publisher Oregon State University
Department Honors College
Degree Honors Baccalaureate of Science in Animal Sciences
Language English
University Oregon State University
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal-assisted activities
  2. Animal-assisted therapies
  3. Horses
  4. Mammals
  5. Mental health and well-being
  6. open access
  7. Psychotherapy
  1. open access