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Published study confirms benefits of horse therapy

Dementia patients who interact with horses demonstrate improved well-being, according to recently published research in Anthrozoos, a quarterly journal that examines the interactions of people and animals.

The study was conducted in the summer of 2011, and involved bringing patients with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia to the Field of Dreams Equine Education Center in Blacklick, Ohio, where they were able to groom, walk and feed the horses. The results showed that spending time with horses had noticeable benefits for patients, including better moods and increased physical activity.

Researchers saw clear signs that patients enjoyed their time on the farm: they smiled, laughed and talked to the horses. Those who normally acted withdrawn or upset became fully engaged in the experience. Plenty of research has gone into animal therapy for patients with dementia, but this study was the first to examine interaction with horses.

The study was led by Assistant Professor of Veterinary Clinical Sciences Dr. Gwendolen Lorch and Associate Professor at the College of Social Work Dr. Holly Dabelko-Schoeny, along with veterinary medicine and social work students Marie Jarden, Denise Johnson, Sarah DeAnna and Emily Darrough. The research would not have been possible without a generous donation from Mr. Duncan Alexander, a long-time supporter of the College of Veterinary Medicine.

“When I visited the farm and saw how the patients interacted with the horses, it was amazing to see how happy and invigorated they were,” Alexander said. “This study is bound to lead to other related studies, and has been an amazing experience for everyone involved. My thanks to all involved from Heritage Day Health Center, Field of Dreams, and Ohio State, but in particular Dr. William Saville, whose extensive coordination efforts made this project possible."

For more information on the study, see the Ohio State Research News story: Caring for Horses Eases Symptoms of Dementia.

The study has now been featured in numerious media outlets:

WCMH-TV, NBC - Researchers find horse therapy benefits Alzheimers patients 

Wild About Animals Radio Show -"The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man" - Science is proving it

The Columbus Dispatch - Equine therapy can calm those with dementia, study finds 

Huffington Post: Surprising Treatment for Alzheimer's shows promising results

Cleveland Plain Dealer: Visits with horses make Alzheimer's patients happy 

Posted May 6, 2014.

Updated June 6, 2014


Originally Published: 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014 - 11:45am