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Study: Therapeutic Riding Programs Help Veterans Cope With PTSD

While military veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have often been prescribed therapeutic horseback riding (THR) as a complementary therapy, little was known about its effectiveness for this disorder. Now, a University of Missouri (MU) study has determined that veterans may have a significant decrease in PTSD scores just weeks after participating in THR.

“PTSD is an anxiety disorder that occurs after exposure to life-threatening events or injuries and is marked by flashbacks, avoidance, and changes in beliefs and feelings,” said Rebecca Johnson, PhD, RN, a professor in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine and the Millsap Professor of Gerontological Nursing in the Sinclair School of Nursing. “Estimates are that more than 23 million military veterans experience PTSD symptoms each year.”

The interaction between horses and riders has been demonstrated to increase riders’ confidence, self-esteem, sensory sensitivity, and social motivation while decreasing stress.

“[Study participants] experienced a significant decrease in PTSD scores, almost 67 percent, after just three weeks of THR,” Johnson said. “After six weeks, participants experienced an 87 percent drop in PTSD scores. Interestingly, the veterans who self-identified for the study all were from the Vietnam War era meaning that some of these military veterans had been experiencing PTSD symptoms for 40 or 50 years. It may be important for healthcare systems to support THR as a viable complementary therapy.”

This article was adapted from information provided by MU-Columbia.