Online Program

A Horsemanship Program for Healing Veterans - An evidence based study on combat veterans who learn horsemanship skills to improve their quality of life

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Ellen Kaye Gehrke, PhD MBA BSc, Dept of Health Sciences - School of Health and Human Services, National University - School of Health and Human Services, San Diego, CA
Michael Myers, Ph.D., Department of Health Sciences, National University, San Diego, CA
Suzanne Evans, Ed D, School of Health & Human Services, National University, San Diego, CA
Alice Noquez, PhD, RN FNP-RC, Dept of Nursing, National University -School of Health and Human Services, San Diego, CA
 Many veterans are facing problems associated with transitioning from military life to civilian life.  These problems include difficulties with communication with family and friends, difficulty developing strong emotional bonds, resolving trust issues, gaining confidence, and reducing anger and anxiety. There is a lack of support for veterans to transition from a combat role to a civilian role which often results in individuals who constantly maintain an edge, and who can, in a given moment overact. While psychological treatment is provided by the Department of Defense (DOD) many veterans do not seek the help they need out of fear of the negative stigma associated with a mental health diagnosis.  There is a need for more complementary and alternative approaches to solving this problem.  Such an approach for veterans has begun to include horsemanship training with the goal to help veterans improve both physically and mentally. Anecdotal evidence reported by individuals and riding centers suggest positive outcomes in both physical and mental health from participating in a horsemanship program but more research  has been needed to validate the efficacy of a program.

The authors conducted a series of research programs teaching combat veterans horsemanship skills on a ranch near San Diego, California. The purpose of this ongoing study is to assess the quality of life indicators of veterans in an 8-week horsemanship program. The ultimate goal is to support positive re-integration into the civilian community. The research questions included 1) does horsemanship training with veterans lead to a balance in the autonomic nervous system (ANS) as demonstrated by Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and; 2) does horsemanship training with veterans lead to a self-perceived improvement in quality of life?    Participants were selected from Veterans Village of San Diego and were transported weekly to the ranch.  The PANAS was administered pre-and post- session for the eight week sessions.  The second pilot included the collection of heart rate variability data to determine pre and post sessions over the eight week period changes in HRV.  The weekly sessions were 2 1/2 hours in length and included catching, grooming, ground skills and eventually riding therapeutically qualified horses.   Preliminary results are indicating a significant improvement in perceptions of quality of life and the final analysis of the HRV data will be presented at the conference since, at this time the data is being collected.

Learning Areas:

Basic medical science applied in public health
Other professions or practice related to public health
Planning of health education strategies, interventions, and programs

Learning Objectives:
Evaluate changes in heart rate variability in veterans who participate in an 8-week horsemanship training program for improvements in the autonomic nervous system Analyze positive and negative affect changes in veterans who engage in an 8-week horsemanship program to help reduce anxiety, isolation and improve communication skills and perceptions of quality of life Describe, using case study approaches, the changes in quality of life for veterans who participate in an 8-week horsemanship program

Keyword(s): Veterans' Health, Mental Health Treatment &Care

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am the principal investigator on an IRB (699893-1)approved grant titled: Pilot Study to Determine the Effectiveness of Horsemanship Training to Improve the Psycho-physiological Health and the Perception of the Quality of life in Combat Veterans I have been researching and publishing in the area of heart rate variability changes and positive and negative affect for eight years with research on children with spectral disorders, client-coaching. Director of Masters in Integrative Healthcare.
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.