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J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2015 Jul;54(7):541-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2015.04.007. Epub 2015 May 5.

Randomized Controlled Trial of Therapeutic Horseback Riding in Children and Adolescents With Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Author information

1
University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and the Children's Hospital Colorado, Aurora, CO. Electronic address: robin.gabriels@childrenscolorado.org.
2
University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and the Children's Hospital Colorado, Aurora, CO.
3
University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and the Children's Hospital Colorado.
4
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Abstract

OBJECTIVE:

This study expands previous equine-assisted intervention research by evaluating the effectiveness of therapeutic horseback riding (THR) on self-regulation, socialization, communication, adaptive, and motor behaviors in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

METHOD:

Participants with ASD (aged 6-16 years; N = 127) were stratified by nonverbal IQ standard scores (≤85 or >85) and randomized to 1 of 2 groups for 10 weeks: THR intervention or a barn activity (BA) control group without horses that used similar methods. The fidelity of the THR intervention was monitored. Participants were evaluated within 1 month pre- and postintervention by raters blinded to intervention conditions and unblinded caregiver questionnaires. During the intervention, caregivers rated participants' behaviors weekly.

RESULTS:

Intent-to-treat analysis conducted on the 116 participants who completed a baseline assessment (THR n = 58; BA control n = 58) revealed significant improvements in the THR group compared to the control on measures of irritability (primary outcome) (p = .02; effect size [ES] = 0.50) and hyperactivity (p = .01; ES = 0.53), beginning by week 5 of the intervention. Significant improvements in the THR group were also observed on a measure of social cognition (p = .05; ES = 0.41) and social communication (p = .003; ES = 0.63), along with the total number of words (p = .01; ES = 0.54) and new words (p = .01; ES = 0.54) spoken during a standardized language sample. Sensitivity analyses adjusting for age, IQ, and per protocol analyses produced consistent results.

CONCLUSION:

This is the first large-scale, randomized, controlled trial demonstrating efficacy of THR for the ASD population, and findings are consistent with previous equine-assisted intervention studies.

CLINICAL TRIAL REGISTRATION INFORMATION:

Trial of Therapeutic Horseback Riding in Children and Adolescents With Autism Spectrum Disorder; http://clinicaltrials.gov; NCT02301195.

KEYWORDS:

autism spectrum disorder; equine-assisted activities and therapies; human-animal interaction; social-communication functioning; therapeutic horseback riding

Comment in

PMID:
26088658
PMCID:
PMC4475278
DOI:
10.1016/j.jaac.2015.04.007
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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