By Dr. Cheryl Meola
We can easily get swept away in the magic of horses. One only needs to spend an hour in their presence to come away feeling refreshed, grounded, and connected. Every horse person can think of an invaluable life lesson we’ve learned from a special horse. The therapeutic nature of horses has been incorporated into therapy, coaching, learning, and horsemanship and has reached many non-horse people in powerful ways. What is missing is the science and research to answer the questions. What is actually happening? What changes can we measure? Why are these changes happening? What are the impacts not only on the people, but also the horses?
Horse and Human Research Foundation’s (HHRF) is a nonprofit organization founded in 2004 with the mission to “serve as a catalyst to advance global knowledge of horse-human interactions and their impact on health and wellness.” As well as funding and promoting research in the field of equine assisted services (EAS), HHRF also strives to disseminate this information to the general public. HHRF funds research in the field each year through funding research grants. Information on this process can be found at www.horsesandhumans.org. Equine assisted research topics that have been funded through HHRF include the impact of EAS on people with autism, cerebral palsy, veterans, youth, people with PTSD, as well as the innovative use of technology in EAS. By promoting EAS research, more funding bodies will, hopefully, commit to helping participants access equine assisted services.
This mission seems lofty but trickles down to every participant with access to EAS. Participants like Parker, a youth with paraplegia who uses a wheelchair except when he is at the barn riding Diamond. The movement of the horse strengthens Parker’s core muscles and improves his balance, and also provides him a different perspective and opportunity for socialization. Imagine the power of sitting on a horse and looking down while conversing with a fellow human rather than sitting in a wheelchair and looking up. And Diamond, a horse who was too nervous and high strung in the show ring, now has a job where he connects and helps people and is treated as an important partner in a therapeutic relationship. Parker’s parents feel a sense of indebtedness to the opportunities EAS have given their son he might otherwise not have experienced.
With increased awareness of the research supporting of EAS, more participants like Parker should have access to and support for services and therapies partnering with equines. Anecdotally, and with an expanding base of research, we know the power horse have in healing, but we need to continue to build the body of evidence.
If the HHRF vision of expanding exposure of the “capacity of horses to transform lives until it is universally understood and valued” interests you, consider volunteering or donating to HHRF. HHRF is a volunteer-based organization that offers participation at many levels. Donations are accepted through the website, which is a way anyone can get involved in supporting EAS research. There is a YouTube channel that houses all the past webinars and other informative videos on HHRF. The HHRF Education committee hosts free monthly webinars that you can sign up for to learn about different research going on in the field. These are a great way to network and learn about what people have learned so far through EAS research!
“…And there are so many paths. From returning vets with PTSD to children with autism. From youth with aggressive behaviors to cancer survivors. There is almost no aspect of human experience that is not touched by the horse’s elusive, engaging abilities.”
Dr. Allan Hamilton, neurosurgeon and author, “Zen Mind, Zen Horse.”
Ways to get involved:
- Unrestricted donations to HHRF
- Fund a grant- propose a subject area you want to support (such as veterans, mental health, suicide prevention, equine-assisted learning, research on underserved populations, and provide the funding and administrative costs)
- Share the research and advocate for HHRF /EAS
- Volunteer on a committee
- Introduce HHRF to people who may be interested
Cheryl Meola, Ph.D., LMHCS, is a member of the HHRF Education Committee and an owner of Mane Source Counseling in Greenville, NC, an equine assisted therapy practice.
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