Online Program

Program Development and Interim Evaluation of Riding Free: Equine Therapy for Children Diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Monday, November 2, 2015

Dene Mitchell, MPH, CCRP, Global Public Health, Arcadia University, Glenside, PA
Andrea Crivelli-Kovach, PhD, Department of Public Health, College of Health Sciences, Arcadia University, Glenside, PA
Background: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disabling anxiety disorder in children and adolescents exposed to traumatic events. The National Comorbidity Survey-Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A) estimated that 31.9% of children in the United States suffer from a type of anxiety disorder. Of that 31.9%, 10.3% met the clinical criteria for PTSD. Yet very few programs exist to meet community needs.

Purpose: Research shows equine therapy is beneficial in children with various emotional and behavioral disorders, including PTSD. The Riding Free equine therapy program was designed by the author for individuals diagnosed with PTSD. The program goals were to improve the quality of life and reduce PTSD symptoms. The purpose of this study was conduct an interim program evaluation to assess feasibility of the program, demonstrated by retention rate and participants’ achievement of program objectives.

Methods:  Riding Free was developed after thorough research in PTSD in children, equine therapy, and effective program development. Focus groups were held to address PTSD needs in the community. The program was implemented at Sebastian Riding Associates, a non-profit, therapeutic riding facility located in Collegeville, Pa. Riding Free was a complementary program to add to participants’ existing therapy.  The program was offered to children diagnosed with PTSD, ages 8 through 17. Riding Free consisted of twelve goal-driven sessions to improve social skills, self-confidence, and self-efficacy. In total, the program contained 49 session objectives, based on learning and skill acquisition.

Records from the first 10 participants to complete the program were evaluated. Attendance was recorded and achievement of objectives was noted in participants’ Student Activity Charts. The retention and program completion rates were assessed by reviewing attendance records. The objective achievement rate was assessed by reviewing participants’ Student Activity Charts.

Results: There were no participant withdrawals. Each participant completed all 12 program sessions, showing a 100% attendance rate. The group’s average for achieving session objectives was 97.96%. The most common objective not met was trotting independently.

Conclusions: The 100% retention and attendance rates demonstrated the high feasibility of the program. Likewise, it indicated a dedicated engagement from both the participant and parents. The high rate of achieving objectives demonstrated both the high feasibility of the program and appropriateness of session plans. The results suggested the session objectives are attainable, yet remain challenging at an appropriate level. The interim program evaluation suggested that the program sessions should not be modified. However, to improve the overall objective achievement rate it is suggested that any unmet objectives be repeated in later sessions, if possible. Results show the Riding Free program was feasible, engaged the participants and their families, and that its session objectives were achievable, supporting the goals of the program.


Merikangas, K. R., He, J., Burstein, M., Swanson, S. A., Avenevoli, S., Cui, L., Benjet, C., Katholiki, G., & Swendsen, J. (2010). Lifetime prevalence of mental disorders in U.S. adolescents: Results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication-Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 49 (10), 980-989. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2010.05.017

Learning Areas:

Assessment of individual and community needs for health education
Conduct evaluation related to programs, research, and other areas of practice
Program planning

Learning Objectives:
Describe how the Riding Free program (complementary equine therapy for children with PTSD) was developed, containing 49 total session objectives based on learning and skill acquisition. Evaluate program feasibility based on objective achievement rate and participant retention.

Keyword(s): Public Health Research, Adolescents

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: The Riding Free program was developed as an MPH thesis project. Now, years after I graduated, I am directing the full program and research at on a volunteer basis. My full time work is in research program management at leading oncology non-profit organization. Peer review presentations include a poster presentation at the College of Physicians and a 1 hour presentation at the Professional Association of Therapuetic Riding international conference.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.