Horses and Humans Research Foundation is pleased to announce the award of its first ever "Innovation Research Grant" to a team from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. The team’s project is titled ‘Can Horses Distinguish Between Neurotypical and Mentally Traumatized Humans?’ and will be led by Principal Investigator Katrina Merkies PhD.
“The metaphor of the horse as a 'mirror' to humans is often an assumption of those that work with horses, yet there is little or no research which explores this idea from the horse’s perspective,” said Paul Haefner, HHRF President. “We are excited to support this groundbreaking research that seeks to answer fundamental questions about horse-human interactions. This type of fundamental research has the potential to inform the work of anyone engaged in the equine-assisted activities (EAA) field. The knowledge gained from innovative studies like this will go a long way toward helping us understand the true role of the horse in therapeutic EAA and serves as a base for designing effective interventions and establishing best practices in the field. We are eager to see where the study leads.”
While there is a growing body of research expounding the effects of equine-assisted activities (EAA) on humans, there is very little scientific research in the area of how EAA affect the horse. Humans working in the world of social work, psychology and psychiatry experience a high degree of stress. It is reasonable to assume that animals placed in similar environments would also experience stress. Understanding how the horse responds both physiologically and behaviorally in the horse-human interaction is a first step in understanding the experience from the horse’s point of view. The hypothesis is that horses will distinguish between clinically “normal” humans and those experiencing psychological trauma (i.e., PTSD) and respond differently even though exposed to the same external human behaviors (i.e., the horse would respond to the emotional energy rather than purely the physical behaviors).
The study will expose 20 horses to four neurotypical humans [control] and four humans diagnosed with PTSD [treatment]. Both horses and humans will be outfitted with a heart rate (HR) monitor and horse salivary samples will be collected 30 minutes prior to testing and 30 minutes after each test to calculate cortisol concentrations as a measure of stress. A video camera will record all tests. A comparison of horse HR, cortisol concentration and behavior data will determine differences between treatment groups.
Merkies and team believe the results will significantly contribute to the direction and validation of future research on the impact of horses-human interactions, and that understanding the horse's role in the processes involved in equine-assisted therapy is essential for furthering research into EAA not only from the human perspective, but from the lens of horse welfare to minimize stressful experiences for the horse and ensure participant safety.
Horses and Humans Research Foundation (HHRF) is the only organization dedicated solely to funding research to support the equine-assisted activities and therapies field. Since its founding, HHRF has awarded $410,000 in professional research efforts led by nine research teams in the United States, Canada and Germany. HHRF is a non-endowed foundation dependent solely on donations. To make a donation and/or learn more about this and other Horses and Humans Research Foundation projects visit http://www.HorsesandHumans.org. Through investment in rigorous research, Horses and Humans Research Foundation will serve as a catalyst to advance knowledge of horses and their potential to impact the health and wellness of people.