Randomized trial examines the effects of equine facilitated learning on neurophysiological patterns of participants in a training in horse therapeutic interventions
The general objective of this study was to examine the neurophysiological effects of equine facilitated learning – EFL, altering pattern ssuch as: anxiety control, Cardio-Functional performance and SNA –Autonomic Nervous System of participants in a certification in therapeutic interventions with horses. A key component of EFL that can alter relevant neurophysiological measures of participants in a 9-day certification is that participants are given numerous opportunities to experience human-equine interactions in a supportive and non-judgmental environment. A weekly description of the program objectives and a selection of sample activities.
1 Basic safety: Know the horses and the team; 2 Respect: Self, others and horses – Moving horses; 3 Communication: Verbal and non-verbal – Leading horses, interpreting the horse’s body language; 4 Leadership – Driving activity using body language; 5 Trust – Dealing with perceptions of stress, etc.
Combined with observed improvements in social competence found in other EFL studies (Pendry&Roeter, 2013), developing a trusting relationship with the horse, individual counselors and other participants, EFL can thus effectively increase performance and perception of social support, which is likely to affect how stressors are perceived physiologically. Through Functional Neurometry internationally recognized and approved as an instrument for measuring neurophysiological indices. Considering that correlational studies have shown promising changes to more adaptive neurological patterns in adults, along with findings suggesting that HAI – Human Animal Interaction may increase oxytocin (associated with HPA – Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal activity suppression), and improve stress-relevant cognitive assessments, the following hypotheses guided our analyses.
The first hypothesis predicted that participants randomly assigned to participate in a 9-day certification have lower levels of average post-test stress levels. The second hypothesis predicted that participants would, on average, have more anxiety control and better SNA responses.
To the best of our knowledge, this is the first randomized trial to demonstrate the effects of EFL on neurophysiological functioning in adults. These results also represent the first causal evidence demonstrating significant effects of EFL on neurophysiological functioning. Our work complements findings based on recent randomized trials on EFL in social competence (Hauge et al., 2013 ; Pendry & Roeter, 2013) and answers calls in the growing field of Human-Animal Interaction (HAI) and Animal Assisted Intervention (AAI) (Esposito et al., 2010) for evidence-based approaches that examine effects on stress and social performance. This study also adds to a relatively new and much-needed body of literature of randomized trials on prevention and interventions for human personal development, which gave minimal attention to neurobiological and physiological systems in their assessments of treatment effectiveness.