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Equine-Assisted Activities and Therapies and Autism Ranking: Limited positive evidence

Autistic child riding a horse with instructor

Equine-assisted activities and therapies (EAAT) is a term used to describe any kind of intervention based around the use of horses and/or the horses' environment.  

Equine-assisted activities include a wide range of horse-related activities (such as therapeutic horseback riding, interactive vaulting, and therapeutic carriage driving, as well as grooming and stable management).

Equine-assisted therapies include hippotherapy (use of a horse to improve neurological function and sensory processing) and equine-assisted psychotherapy (use of a horse to improve mental health).

Some people believe that EEAT can help people on the autism spectrum cope better with a wide range of problems. For example, they believe that therapeutic horseback riding can help with issues such as social and communication difficulties, hyperactivity and irritability. They also believe that hippotherapy can help with issues such as posture, adaptive behaviours, and self-care.

Our Opinion

There is a reasonable amount of research evidence (10 group studies and eight single-case design studies with three or more participants) into the use of equine-assisted activities and therapies for individuals on the autism spectrum.

This research suggests that therapeutic horseback riding may provide some benefits to some children and young people on the autism spectrum.  Those benefits include increased social communication and interaction, alongside increased concentration and decreased hyperactivity and irritability. 

There is insufficient evidence to determine if therapeutic horseback riding provides any benefits to adults on the autism spectrum.

There is insufficient evidence to determine if hippotherapy provides any benefits to individuals on the autism spectrum.

There is no research to suggest other forms of equine-assisted activities and therapies, such as equine-assisted psychotherapy, provide any benefits to individuals on the autism spectrum.

There is a need for more research into equine-assisted activities and therapies which uses scientifically robust, experimental methodologies with larger numbers of more diverse participants.  That research should investigate whether equine-assisted activities and therapies are more or less effective than other interventions designed to provide the same benefits, and whether specific individuals are more likely to benefit from specific forms of EEAT than other individuals.

Disclaimer

Please read our Disclaimer on Autism Interventions

Updated
12 Dec 2018
Last Review
01 Dec 2018
Next Review
01 Dec 2021