Veterans with combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder were less anxious and depressed and had an improved quality of life after an eight-week therapeutic horseback riding program, according to a Baylor University study.
Baylor researcher Beth Lanning, associate chair of public health at Baylor’s Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences, said veterans felt comfortable and could relax because the horses made them feel they were in an emotionally safe place.
"The biggest changes that we saw, over the course of the eight weeks, was a change in the mental health, especially that as connected to PTSD symptoms and depression," said Lanning.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 20 veterans commit suicide every day. All participants served in at least one of the three Iraq and Afghanistan war missions and have been diagnosed with PTSD.
Lanning said the horses were able to calm down the veterans.
"The horse would be sensitive enough to pick up on that things were not okay and it helped them to really reflect on their own emotions," said Lanning.
She said the veterans felt less anxious, depressed, angry and isolated than before and felt they could participate in life again.
The program consisted of weekly 90-minute sessions, with participants sharing a meal before each session. The first four weeks included grooming, leading and working with the horse in a round pen to develop a relationship. The last four weeks including riding and horsemanship exercises.
Additionally, each horse-rider pair was accompanied by a trained volunteer who was a military service member not participating in the study.