2018 we started a bigger research project. Cooperating with the University of Vienna, the Unit of Comparative Medicine of the Messerli Research Institute of the Veterinary University of Vienna and the Sigmund Freud University of Vienna we started a scientific approach to the health-promoting aspect of equine-assisted therapy. The title is „Because they feel your heartbeat! Heart rate (variability) and cortisol distribution as a sign of synchronisation within horse assisted therapy based on body language.”.
As part of the research project, we looked at the stress-reducing effects of horses and measured the heartbeat and heart rate variability (HRV) as well as the cortisol in the saliva of the therapist, client and therapy horse.
We also wanted to look at the synchronization between the three interaction partners. Is there a synchronization in the physiological parameters? Studies in mother-infant interaction research have already demonstrated the effect of coordinated heartbeats. But are there hearts beating in the same rhythm in equine-assisted therapy sessions?
It was an intensive data collection period with an ingenious research team and super hardworking study participants, who were not submissive to minus degrees, unpredictable technical challenges and hours to days of commitment almost around the clock. On the contrary! The motivation and enthusiasm to discover new secrets of horse therapy was enormous. And the effort paid off, as the results analysis showed:
On the one hand, we were able to show that the integration of horses into the therapeutic setting had a stress-reducing effect on clients. We measured cortisol, heart rate and HRV before and after the therapy session. And we also had a control condition in which there was no horse at the therapy session, only the wooden barrel horse. After contact with the horse (in contrast to before) and in the experimental condition with therapy horse (in contrast to the barrel horse), the cortisol and the heart rate were lower and the HRV increased. High values in the HRV indicate a high level of well-being and low values in the cortisol and the heart rate indicate relaxation. Therapy horses have a positive influence on the stress experience and relaxation.
On the other hand, we looked at the synchronization of the heartbeats and found that there was actually coordination between the therapy horse, client and therapist. The heartbeats adapt to each other and, interestingly, the adjustment is greater if there has been a relationship between human and horse before and the therapy horse was not foreign or unknown.
We have already been able to present the results at many conferences, e.g. in Dublin, Budapest, New York and Singen, and we found great approval in the horse therapist community. Most of us already experienced horses in our daily practice having a positive effect on well-being and helping to reduce stress and experiencing relaxation. Most people are also aware that relationship is a very essential factor in a therapeutic setting. And yet, it is important to advance research in this area so that the knowledge that parents, therapy children, therapists, experts etc. experience in their daily work is also scientifically presented in order to achieve greater acceptance of horse-assisted therapy.
We are VERY happy to exchange information on this and other research projects and would like to encourage everyone to do something themselves!
The first publication on our research project can be found at http://www.uco.es/ucopress/ojs/index.php/pet/article/view/11801. Another article with the meaning of the results for practice as well as further research ideas and a lot of literary background is currently being worked on.
2014 there was a research project at e.motion in cooperation with the Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences in Leeuwarden in the Netherlands. With the heading “Who infuences whom?- Interaction between client, horse and therapist” Saskia Aust and Ilona van Dongen worked for their course animal management with the main emphasis animal-assisted therapy. The aim of the study was to analyse which bilateral influence of body language between horse and client is shown during a free interaction session under therapist guidance.
In 2006 we started a research project under the direction of Univ.Doz. Dr. Thomas Stephenson and Mag. Roswitha Zink: Using video analysis the nonverbal communication between humans and horses was investigated in order to present and explain the mechanisms, effects and the potential of Equotherapie.
There have been three diploma thesis with different focuses:
We are very proud to tell that in October 2017 the Book of Dr. Karin Hediger (Swiss) and Mag. Roswitha Zink (Austia) has been published in Ernst Reinhardt Verlag.
Based on scientifically founded trauma therapeutic concepts and the current state of research on horse-assisted work, methods, prerequisites, as well as the limitations and risks of horse-assisted trauma therapy are presented vividly. Based on the case study of 16-year-old Hannah and her therapy horse Tamino, the authors provide insights into horse-assisted trauma therapy. Which quality assurance measures are available? What qualifications of the therapist are important and how can the selection, training and attitude of the therapy-accompanying horse be optimally achieved? The book provides an overview of the effects and implementation of horse-assisted interventions in trauma therapy and thus provides a basis for the further development of this therapeutic area.
Unfortunately the book has only been published in german.
Here is our Facebook-Fotoalbum of the book presentation.
Besides the therapeutic work with small and big shining moments, the recharge of batteries with horsepower, the giving of ray of hopes und BEING THERE for children and youths, the scientific approach to the topic equine-assisted therapy is very important to us.
That’s why we have done small research work in the last years, formed research groups for bigger projects and fortunately kept on getting the opportunity to give talks about our work.
In recent years we have repeatedly carried out smaller research projects, have formed a research group for larger projects every few years and, fortunately, are given the opportunity to give lectures on our work. Numerous small research projects have been carried out in recent years on topics like:
In 2005 we were awarded first place in the research award of the Animal Protection Ombudsman's Office in Vienna with a research project entitled “Paradigms in the Human-Animal Relationship”.
Every now and then we receive inquiries about pre-scientific work, bachelor's or master's theses and related research projects. As far as it is possible, we have a research project ourselves and it is a topic that can be researched by us, we are happy to win over for cooperation. We kindly ask you to contact us in this regard, but we cannot promise anything in advance!
Workshops and lectures at small and large specialist conferences always earned a lot of recognition for the methodical design of e.motion and we are looking forward to the professional exchange again this year.
The dates for our workshops
"Meet a Mustang" in the Vienna Zoo take place regularly from April to October.
17.2. Workshop fo interns
12.-14.4. Lecture to heartrate study 15th Triennial Iahaio Conference (Green Chimmneys, USA)
13.+14.6. Workshop at MITEINANDER BEWEGT 2. Pädiatrischer Hospiz- und Palliativkongress in Österreich, Salzburg (https://www.kinderhospiz-kongress.at/information/)
19.+20.10 Lecture at Horses 4 Humans
We are available for further information if you are interested in our research. We really enjoy researching and networking with like-minded people and we look forward to exchanges. Unfortunately, our time resources for this are often limited. We are primarily therapists for children and adolescents in crises and, of course, care for the animals should not be neglected, as there is often little time for science. We ask for your understanding that answering inquiries can sometimes take a little more time!