13 March 2017

RESEARCH - Therapeutic Riding Improves Autistic Children's Interaction With Pets

Researchers with the University of Colorado and Children’s Hospital Colorado undertook the first known study to examine the effects of therapeutic riding in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) on their caring behaviours towards domestic pets.

Past studies have examined whether social skills are impacted by animal assisted therapy with dogs, and how dogs in the home positively impact caregivers.

Service dogs are now being trained for individuals with ASD, but this look at therapeutic riding is new.

A total of 67 children between the ages of six and 16 participated in the study.

31 took part in a therapeutic riding program and the remainder were involved with barn activities for 10 weeks.

The riding program included learning about horses as well as time in the saddle.

The barn activity group learned about horses, safety rules and horse care, but they had no physical contact with horses.

A consistent caregiver completed questionnaires about participants’ interactions with their household pets before and after the program.

Caregivers of therapeutic riding group participants reported significant improvements in participants’ caring actions with the family pet compared with the barn activity group.

The findings support previous studies that show interaction with animals can have a positive impact on children with ASD.

Researchers concluded: “Engaging with horses during a standard therapeutic riding intervention protocol may generalize to improving caring actions toward family pets in children and adolescents with ASD.

“Moving forward, measuring how caregivers and family functioning are also impacted by the human–animal interaction may be useful.”

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