Do Horses Enjoy Being Therapy Animals?

We’ve covered many equine-assisted therapy (EAT) programs because it’s been proven to help people cope with a variety of issues. We’ve written about first responders suffering from PTSD, teens with eating disorders, seniors with cognitive impairment ‒ all these groups and many more have found help working with and being around horses, giving them skills to manage their stress, depression, pain and anxiety.

But does anyone stop to ask if the horses enjoy this life-affirming role in people’s lives? Do horses reap benefits too, or is it stressful to be around people who are often in emotional distress? The Morris Animal Foundation is funding promising research at the University of Guelph to find out.

The study began on May 1, 2022, and the plan is to conclude it in the summer of 2023. While it’s too early to discuss any findings, Dr. Kelly Diehl MS, DACVIM (SAIM), Morris Animal Foundation’s Senior Director of Science and Communication and host of the Fresh Scoop podcast, has worked with the foundations research teams for nearly nine years.

Morris Animal Foundation has invested over $21 million in more than 525 equine health studies over the years, and research findings have influenced how veterinarians and horse owners care for their animals. “We’re very excited to fund this new study. We know that interacting with animals has clear benefits for people, but we know almost nothing from the animals’ perspective,” says Dr. Diehl. “At this time, it’s still too early to draw any sort of conclusions from this particular study, but we’re excited any time we have the opportunity to fund equine health studies that are focused on behavioral health.”

The study will use volunteers to participate in animal-assisted interactions with horses to help researchers understand how horses feel when approached and touched by people that are unfamiliar. The team will collect data on behavioral and physiological responses, including heart rate monitoring, in both horses and humans. The results will be used to educate people working with horses, including those in horse-assisted interaction programs.

The Morris Foundation was founded in 1948 by an American vet, Dr. Mark L. Morris, who began practicing veterinary medicine in 1926 and began developing diagnostic techniques based on human medicine. He famously developed Hills Prescription Diet dog food to prevent kidney disease in dogs. Since its creation, the Foundation has invested more than $142 million toward 2,850+ studies that have led to significant breakthroughs in diagnostics, treatments, preventions, and cures benefitting companion animals, horses, and wildlife worldwide.

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