Therapeutic Horse Riding (THR) is already well-known, by both professionals and parents, as having very good effects in developing the social skills of some children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Some smaller studies have provided evidence for these improvements, but research on THR with a larger-scale population has been missing.
This recent study by Robin Gabriels and others involved a wider cohort and provides results which confirm the observations of previous studies. The researchers recruited 127 participants with ASD aged 6-16 years who were separated into two groups. Participants were randomly allocated to these groups, with one receiving a THR intervention for a period of 10 weeks and a control group participating in barn activities (BA) that did not involve horses. Participants were evaluated within one month before and after the study by raters blinded to the intervention, and their behaviour was rated weekly by their carers.
Compared to the BA group, children in the THR group showed significant improvements in measures of irritability and hyperactivity. The THR intervention was also shown to have a positive effect on social cognition, social communication and language. These results remained after allowing for differences in factors such as age and IQ.
This study provides yet more evidence for the effectiveness of animal therapy for children with ASD, helping them across a range of domains.
Thanks to Paul Whitely for his review of this study.