H-PWR - The Power of the Horse
Every day, soldiers risk their lives to fight for a safe and stable world. Essential work that requires the utmost, both physically and mentally.
However, time and again, these soldiers have to endure events that will haunt them long after the mission has ended. Even when safely back home, they are forced to relive their traumatic experiences, including associated feelings of fear and helplessness. This condition is known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and prevents countless veterans from living normal lives.
What is more, PTSD presents a particularly heavy burden to the family, friends and immediate environment. We believe that these veterans, as well as their families and friends, deserve all the support they can get.
Animals and veterans with PTSD
Research findings suggest that interactions with animals can have beneficial effects on the well-being of veterans with PTSD (O'Haire et al., Frontiers in Psychology 2015). Until now, research has mainly focused on the interaction between veterans and PTSD service dogs. For more details, please consult our project page on the topic.
Studies suggests that certain types of group therapy, which may include those relying on the interaction with horses, are likely to have a positive effect on a veteran's health (MacLean, Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development 2011). It has been suggested that in addition to the interaction with horses, the aspects of being together and cooperating with other veterans with PTSD, may have additional positive effects (Abrams, PhD thesis Northcentral University, USA, 2013). Moreover, such a way of working in a team aligns with how the army generally operates.
However, other than anecdotal evidence, there is little empirical data available that reliably measures the effects of such a therapy. That is why the current research project wants to gather reliable, measurable data into the effectiveness of the use of horses on the mental health of the veteran. In this way the research team wants to contribute to treatment methods that can help veterans (and in the long term also civil patients) with PTSD even better.
And the urgency is high: The prevalence of PTSD is continually increasing. In addition to the military, there is also increasing attention for this problem in other uniformed professions such as the police, fire brigade and ambulance service.
H-PWR: the power of horses
The project team wants to investigate the effects of group therapy with horses on veterans with PTSD. Regarding the effects on the veterans, we want to perform measurements on the participants before, during and after the therapy. We expect a decrease in sensitivity to stress during the course of therapy (lower heart rate and cortisol level), an increase in self-awareness and a more positive self-image among veterans. We do not expect any negative effects of the therapy on the horses used, but we do expect a relationship between behavior and physiology in veterans and horses (for example, a higher oxytocin level in both humans and horses in positive social interaction).
Over the course of a 4-year program, the project team will follow nine groups of eight veterans with PTSD each during a specifically developed 10-week training program.
Every week a group of veterans will come together for a day at the participating riding school, to work through the training program. Said program has a modular structure and starts with the basics and builds up slowly.
Both veterans and horses are monitored throughout the training program in order to be able to investigate the most effective treatment in this way.
The project team aims to involve those veterans on the Dutch waiting list for group therapy with horses.
Help veterans with PTSD
We hope to help as many veterans with PTSD as possible, and provide hard evidence that horses can make a real difference in the lives of veterans.
Support us, and help our veterans with PTSD!