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Mil Med Res. 2018 Jan 19;5(1):3. doi: 10.1186/s40779-018-0149-6.

Effects of therapeutic horseback riding on post-traumatic stress disorder in military veterans.

Author information

Research Center for Human Animal Interaction, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, 65211, USA.
Research Service, Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans' Hospital, Columbia, MO, 65211, USA.
School of Social Work, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL, 35487, USA.
Occupational Health Services, Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans' Hospital, Columbia, MO, 65211, USA.
Center for the Human-Animal Bond, College of Veterinary Medicine, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, 47907, USA.
School of Health Professions, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, 65211, USA.
Research Center for Human Animal Interaction, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, 65211, USA.
TREE House of Greater St. Louis, Wentzville, MO, 63385, USA.
School of Nursing and Health Studies, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Kansas City, MO, 64108, USA.
Cedar Creek Therapeutic Riding Center, Columbia, MO, 65201, USA.
College of Education, School and Counseling Psychology, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, 65211, USA.
Ride-On St. Louis, Kimmswick, MO, 63053, USA.



Large numbers of post-deployment U.S. veterans are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or traumatic brain injury (TBI), leading to an urgent need for effective interventions to reduce symptoms and increase veterans' coping. PTSD includes anxiety, flashbacks, and emotional numbing. The symptoms increase health care costs for stress-related illnesses and can make veterans' civilian life difficult.


We used a randomized wait-list controlled design with repeated measures of U.S. military veterans to address our specific aim to test the efficacy of a 6-week therapeutic horseback riding (THR) program for decreasing PTSD symptoms and increasing coping self-efficacy, emotion regulation, social and emotional loneliness. Fifty-seven participants were recruited and 29 enrolled in the randomized trial. They were randomly assigned to either the horse riding group (n = 15) or a wait-list control group (n = 14). The wait-list control group experienced a 6-week waiting period, while the horse riding group began THR. The wait-list control group began riding after 6 weeks of participating in the control group. Demographic and health history information was obtained from all the participants. PTSD symptoms were measured using the standardized PTSD Checklist-Military Version (PCL-M). The PCL-M as well as other instruments including, The Coping Self Efficacy Scale (CSES), The Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale (DERS) and The Social and Emotional Loneliness Scale for Adults-short version (SELSA) were used to access different aspects of individual well-being and the PTSD symptoms.


Participants had a statistically significant decrease in PTSD scores after 3 weeks of THR (P ≤ 0.01) as well as a statistically and clinically significant decrease after 6 weeks of THR (P ≤ 0.01). Logistic regression showed that participants had a 66.7% likelihood of having lower PTSD scores at 3 weeks and 87.5% likelihood at 6 weeks. Under the generalized linear model(GLM), our ANOVA findings for the coping self-efficacy, emotion regulation, and social and emotional loneliness did not reach statistical significance. The results for coping self-efficacy and emotion regulation trended in the predicted direction. Results for emotional loneliness were opposite the predicted direction. Logistic regression provided validation that outcome effects were caused by riding longer.


The findings suggest that THR may be a clinically effective intervention for alleviating PTSD symptoms in military veterans.


Animal-assisted intervention; Coping self-efficacy; Emotion regulation; Military veterans; Post-traumatic stress disorder; Social engagement; Therapeutic horseback riding; Traumatic brain injury

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