As many of you may know, I published Walking the Way of the Horse: Exploring the Power of the Horse-Human Relationship in 2008 after many years of study and research related to equine-assisted mental health and equine-assisted learning. At that time, the options for understanding the industry were mostly limited to opinion-based materials using anecdotal stories, and the collection of professional experiences through interviews and surveys.
In a recent literature review I conducted for my latest book, I discovered one hundred empirical research studies related to equine-assisted mental health or equine-assisted learning were conducted between 1985 and 2016 that met my specific criteria. Of those studies only twelve were published PRIOR TO 2008. This gives a sense of how limited the data was prior to 2008, and how much more information we have today.
Even with all of these new studies, our understanding of equine-assisted mental health and equine-assisted learning is still in its infancy. The vast majority of current studies seek to “prove” that equine-assisted mental health or equine-assisted learning is effective for a variety of populations. But, most lack essential details about the design of the intervention or service including the demographic information of the providers (licensure type, experience, education), the approach or model used, the activities conducted, and the role of the horse as an agent of change. Furthermore, most current studies do not include research on the mechanisms of change as related to therapeutic outcomes. All of this makes it very difficult to compare results or conclusively suggest efficacy.
A few days ago I signed a new contract with Routledge (the world’s leading academic publisher in the humanities and social sciences) to publish a book that will replace Walking the Way of the Horse with an updated and current text to educate professionals and students about equine-assisted mental health and equine-assisted learning.
As a critical component of the research I will do for this book, I have partnered with Dr. Leslie Stewart of Idaho State University, the primary author of the American Counseling Association’s Animal-Assisted Therapy in Counseling Competencies to conduct an international cross-sectional research survey. Like myself, Dr. Stewart is dedicated to advancing our knowledge related to the practices of equine-assisted mental health and equine-assisted learning through empirical study.
Our survey is designed to gain a detailed understanding of the theoretical foundations of the various models or approaches commonly used when providing equine-assisted mental health or equine-assisted learning. This important survey includes questions related to provider demographics, theoretical foundations, mechanisms of change, the role of the provider and various staff/volunteers, and the role and demographics of the horses who are included in the various models of equine-assisted mental health or equine-assisted learning.
We will distribute the outcomes of this research back to our community both through my next book, and also by publishing the data in a peer-reviewed journal (assuming we are able to collect enough data and our article is accepted). We may also be able to present our findings at industry conferences or other events.
Without your participation in this survey, and others like it, our understanding of this emerging speciality area of practice will continue to be limited to personal opinions and anecdotal stories. Please consider taking the time to help advance our industry by taking this survey! THANK YOU FOR YOUR HELP AND SUPPORT.