An Exploration of the Mechanism of Action of an Equine-Assisted Intervention
Department of Medical Sciences & Public Health, Bournemouth University, Poole BH12 5BB, UK
Department of Social Sciences & Social Work, Bournemouth University, Poole BH12 5BB, UK
Department of Sports & Physical Activity, Bournemouth University, Poole BH12 5BB, UK
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 17 April 2019 / Revised: 15 May 2019 / Accepted: 29 May 2019 / Published: 31 May 2019
Although there is increasing international interest and a growing body of evidence discussing the potential impacts of equine-assisted interventions to assist those with behavioural, mental health, physical health and disability-related issues, there has been little exploration of what “the mechanism of action” may be in causing any potential positive impacts. This paper reports on multi-method research study which considered in detail what was occurring while participants undertook the equine-assisted intervention under study. The intervention was implemented with young people with chronic mental health and behavioural problems for whom talk-based interventions were not working. Previous research has demonstrated long-term health and wellbeing benefits in recipients of the intervention. The three datasets were video data, psycho-physiological data, in this case, skin conductivity response, which is an indicator of emotional arousal, and experiential interview data. Our findings indicated that learning natural horsemanship skills through this intervention caused participants to experience emotional arousal when they asked the horse to perform a task. We would suggest that this process of experiencing a positive outcome following emotional arousal helps participants to achieve the reported behavioural outcomes from this intervention which include increased calmness, assertiveness, focus, empathy, communication skills, taking responsibility for behaviour, planning and confidence as a learner. These changes in behaviour then translate from the intervention to the participants’ everyday lives, thereby achieving the changes in behaviour recorded by those independent practitioners (i.e., social workers and teachers) who refer individuals to this intervention.