The field of Equine Assisted Interventions (EAI) for human health, education and wellbeing is wide, varied, and rapidly growing with an expressed need of increased knowledge. Interventions involving horses are used to address a variety of difficulties and suggested as an alternative option for children and youth in need of support, who for different reasons do not or cannot benefit from traditional therapeutic or educational contexts or settings.
Research thus far has mainly investigated outcomes while systematic knowledge about processes and characteristics of these interventions is still lacking. The following study was conducted into our work by the Swedish researcher Mia Harri:
The purpose of the study was to increase knowledge and understanding of EAI for children and youth by exploring key factors and interaction in a Therapeutic Horsemanship groundwork program for disadvantaged Young People. The research was of an exploratory nature, with qualitative research methods and an ethnographic approach where data was collected through a field study based on participant observation and semi-structured interviews. Data was analysed by Reflexive Thematic Analysis.
Results show that the interaction can be understood as a triad consisting of child, practitioner(s) and horse. Key factors in the intervention can be understood through eight interrelated themes, divided into Framework Themes and Content Themes. The Framework Themes are Concept, Environment and Activity. The Content Themes are Safe Spaces, Communication is Key, Positive Perceptions, Helping Horses and Learning for Life. These themes interrelate, enabling and affecting the intervention and interaction in the triad.
To understand processes in the intervention, findings were interpreted through Experiential Learning Theory and the Biophilia Hypothesis. Results show the significance of the whole concept and the equine environment, and that learning can be identified throughout the intervention. Through interaction, cooperation and training with the horse, the Young Person learns, acquires and develops awareness, competences and skills which can eventually be transferred to their everyday life, thus providing increased social competence and ability to handle difficulties. The intervention can be summarised as being child-centred, horse-focused and action-based.
Findings suggest a significance of working exclusively with rescue horses,and that EAI based on groundwork activities can offer a novel and positive experiential learning experience for young people. Findings further suggest that the experiential learning process in EAI may be directable to address various issues, and that EAI/groundwork therefore could be a suitable option for children and youth for whom more traditional or conventional settings for education or therapy are not an option.