Horses

Rutgers Study: Therapy Horses Are Not Stressed When Working With Veterans

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Stella Almeida, right presents Karyn Malinowski with a check for Rutgers Equine Science Center from the 4-H horse program at Evening of Science & Celebration on Nov. 9 in New Brunswick, N.J. Credits: Lillian Shupe
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Members of the New Jersey 4-H Roundup team are honored at the Rutgers Equine Science Center's Evening of Science & Celebration on Nov. 9 at the Cook Campus Center in New Brunswick, N.J. Credits: Lillian Shupe
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Warren County 4-H member, Brittany Smith gives her presentation at the Rutgers Equine Science Center's Evening of Science & Celebration” on Nov. 9 at the Cook Campus Center in New Brunswick, N.J. Credits: Lillian Shupe
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Rutgers Equine Science Center's Evening of Science & Celebration was held on Nov. 9 at the Cook Campus Center in New Brunswick, N.J. Credits: Lillian Shupe

As the old saying goes, “There is nothing so good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse.”

But how do the outsides of a man, particularly a veteran with post traumatic stress disorder, affect the horse? That is the question, Karyn Malinowski, Ph.D., director of the Rutgers Equine Science Center, is seeking to answer.  She presented the results of a pilot study during the center’s “Evening of Science & Celebration” on Nov. 9 at the Cook Campus Center in New Brunswick, N.J.

Dr. Malinowski is a Professor of Animal Sciences, and the Founding Director of the Equine Science Center at the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES), at Rutgers University. Her research and extension programs concentrate on improving the well-being and quality of life of the equine athlete while ensuring the vitality and viability of the equine industry, both statewide and nationally.

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The study took place in April 2016 at Monmouth County Park System’s Sunnyside Equestrian Center. The five-day data collection trial used Equine Assisted Activities Therapy (EAAT) to measure the physiological indicators of stress and well-being in humans and horses. The sample collection was completed with a follow up standing control that was conducted using the same horses on June 5, 2016 without EAAT interaction taking place.

“The Effect of EAAT on the Well-Being of Horses, and Veterans Diagnosed with PTSD,” talk focused on preliminary findings that will be published later this year or early next spring.

In a partnership between The Rutgers University Equine Science Center, Special People United to Ride (SPUR), Sunnyside Recreation Area (a division of the Monmouth County Park System), Monmouth University, and the Lakewood Veterans Affairs, the study aimed to provide data on how EAAT affects the horses that are interacting with humans during therapy.

The veterans, six men and one woman, answered questions about their symptoms, before and after interacting with the horses. They did not ride the horses, they groomed, led, pet or merely spoke to the horses.

Heart rate, heart rate variability and levels of the hormones cortisol and oxytocin were measured in the horses to determine their stress levels, before, during and after the sessions.

The veterans indicated substantial reductions in their PTSD symptoms after interacting with the horses. They did not show significant physiological effects such as lowered blood pressure, but their heart rates did decrease.

The horses showed no significant changes in cortisol levels, indicating that the sessions were not stressful to them.

Oxytocin levels also showed no significant changes either, indicating the horses sense of well-being did not change because of the interaction with the veterans. Other studies have shown that when dogs and humans interact with each other, oxytocin levels increased in both. Oxytocin has anti-stress affects, such as reducing cortisol levels.

Dr. Malinowski concluded that more studies are warranted on the subject.

The evening also included an update on a study by Ph D. candidate Dylan Klein called “Fit as a Horse: Body Composition and Aerobic Capacity During Training and Detraining.” Results so far show that exercise increases oxygen uptake in both mares and geldings but once training was stopped, the geldings maintained their fitness better than the mares.

Several members of the New Jersey 4-H Roundup team which just returned from national competition were honored. Brittany Smith, of Warren County died her presentation on the history of the Triple Crown, which placed fifth at the Eastern National 4-H Roundup in Kentucky a few days earlier.

A check from the 4-H program was also presented to the Equine Science Center. The money was raised at the New Jersey State 4-H Horse Show in August.

Other awards presented were the Spirit of the Horse to Laurie Landy, founder of Special Strides Therapeutic Riding and the Gold Medal Horse Farm honor to Dorsett Arabians.

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