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An observational evaluation of stress in horses during therapeutic riding sessions

By L. McDuffee, L. Carr, W. Montelpare

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Therapeutic riding (TR) provides benefits to participants with cognitive and physical disabilities. Horses participating in TR programs are typically selected because of their calm temperament and may not show obvious signs of stress. However, the welfare of horses in TR programs is an important aspect when evaluating the delivery of the program, to ensure sustainability. The aim of this study was to assess stress levels in TR horses during scheduled sessions. The research was carried out during normal therapeutic horseback riding lessons designed for participants with intellectual and developmental disabilities within a certified program. There were 4 horses in the study who participated in multiple lessons each week over an 8-week period. Behavior scores, salivary cortisol, and heart rate variability measures were analyzed as measures of stress during baseline, mounting and dismounting. Results indicated that physiologic and behavioral measures of stress were increased during mounting and dismounting compared to baseline levels. Ethologically sound solutions to alleviate stress during TR activities is warranted to improve equine welfare.

Publication Title Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research
Volume 49
Pages 53-64
DOI 10.1016/j.jveb.2021.11.009
Language English
Notes Cited Reference Count: 59 ref.0ElsevierNew York, USA
Author Address Departments of Health Management (McDuffee and Carr) and Applied Human Sciences (Montelpare) University of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada.lmcduffee@upei.ca
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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal-assisted therapies
  2. Animal behavior
  3. Animal physiology
  4. Animals
  5. Animal welfare
  6. Behavioral research
  7. Biochemistry
  8. Biology
  9. Disabilities
  10. Health care
  11. Heart
  12. Horseback riding
  13. Horses
  14. Humans
  15. Hydrocortisone
  16. Mammals
  17. Men
  18. Mental disorders
  19. Non-communicable diseases and injuries
  20. pathology
  21. physiology
  22. Physiology and biochemistry
  23. Primates
  24. prophylaxis
  25. rate
  26. saliva
  27. Sport animals
  28. Stress
  29. Stress response
  30. ungulates
  31. vertebrates
  32. Veterinary sciences
  33. Zoology