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Health, Wellness, and Ecological Impacts of Horse Therapy for Special Needs Children

By Jennifer Sulkowski

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The benefits of horse therapy for special needs children have been documented for centuries, but direct experience and perspective from special needs children and their families involved in horse therapy are missing from the literature. The purpose of this study was to enhance understanding on the health, well-being, and ecological impacts of horse therapy for special needs children, and to demonstrate how horse therapy aligns with public health, by interviewing 8 special needs families who utilize the therapy, 8 adults who underwent horse therapy as children, and 12 ecological experts in local communities. Data were hand-coded and organized based on the phenomenology of the horse, the ethnography of horse and horse therapy culture and environment, and grounded theory to explain how and why horse therapy works. All 16 horse therapy participants with diverse challenges and limitations reported a successful experience with concrete changes in health and/or well-being as a result of horse therapy; all 12 ecological experts endorsed horse therapy centers as beneficial fixtures within the communities, despite obvious challenges, such as funding, in running them. Horse therapy can be used to help and support a wide-range of special needs families; horse therapy centers are beneficial assets to local communities and their public health programs. With respect to the social change implications of this study, the information can be used by community members (e.g., doctors, health professionals, occupational therapists, families) to better understand horse therapy and its benefits for special needs children. In an attempt to improve access and promote horse therapy as a viable public health initiative, a basic blueprint for horse therapy center start-up operations has been provided for local communities.    


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2017
Pages 214
Department Public Health
Degree Doctor of Public Health (DrPH)
URL https://scholarworks.waldenu.edu/dissertations/3727/
Language English
University Walden University
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal roles
  2. Children with disabilties
  3. Ecology
  4. Equine-assisted activities
  5. Health
  6. open access
  7. Pets and companion animals
  8. Service animals
  9. special needs
  10. youth
  1. open access