(April 2019) In the first large, randomized study of its
kind, researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus
have shown a lasting reduction
in irritability and other positive social and communication impacts on
children with autism spectrum through therapeutic horse riding.
“There is growing evidence that human-animal interventions can improve emotional health and social wellness in youth, particularly those with autism spectrum disorder,” said the study’s principal investigator and lead author Robin Gabriels, PsyD, professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “Our study was rigorous and the findings remarkable.”
The initial report of the researchers’ randomized study of therapeutic horseback riding (THR) with 127 children ages 6 to 16 years was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry in 2015.
It was the first to show that participating in 10 weeks of THR resulted in significant improvements in irritability, hyperactivity, social skills, and word fluency compared to a barn activity control group that met at the riding center to learn about horses, but had no direct interaction with horses.
The researchers then did a 6-month follow-up of 44 percent of the participants from that initial study, published in a recent special issue of Frontiers in Veterinary Science. The study was the first to demonstrate that the initial benefits of 10-weeks of THR in this same population can have lasting benefits.