Horseback Riding Reduces PTSD Symptoms in Veterans by 87 Percent

February 9, 2018 at 6:47 pm

A new study finds veterans’ PTSD scores plummet after six weeks of horseback therapy

Veteran’s Hospitals are teaming up with veterinarians to find desperately needed alternative therapies for the 23 million American military veterans who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder each year.

A new study suggests therapeutic horseback riding may be one of those therapies, calling it a “clinically effective intervention for alleviating PTSD symptoms in military veterans.”

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that occurs after exposure to a life-threatening event or injury, marked by symptoms such as flashbacks, emotional numbing, avoidance, anxiety and hyper-arousal, says the study’s main author Rebecca Johnson, a professor at the University Of Missouri’s Research Center for Human Animal Interaction.

Johnson and her colleagues teamed up with Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital in Missouri to enroll 29 local veterans in the study.

After six weekly hour-long sessions grooming, interacting with and riding horses, the participants PTSD symptoms decreased by an average of 87 percent.

Participants were scored on coping, emotion regulation, social and emotional loneliness using the standardized PTSD Checklist-Military Version.

Between 10 and 20 percent of Iraq veterans and as many as 30 percent of Vietnam veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD.

Johnson says the true numbers are likely much higher as PTSD is typically under-reported due to stigma.

Research shows alcohol is among the most common coping mechanisms for veterans suffering with PTSD.

Veterans’ attempts to cope with PTSD with alcohol “may further magnify the challenges of reintegrating into post-deployment life … including marital distress, domestic violence and poor parenting,” Johnson says.

Despite the “urgent need” for complementary and alternative therapies, research on innovative interventions is scarce, Johnson said, noting that some of the participants had been suffering PTSD for 50 years since the Vietnam War.

The therapeutic horse riding program had promising results including increased motivation and courage, reduced psychological distress and improved social involvement.

The physical benefits of horse riding included improved posture, balance and motor function, decreased muscle tension and pain reduction.

Evidence suggests that PTSD and other anxiety/depression related mental health conditions may decrease with physical activity, Johnson said.

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