Equine Animal Assisted Therapy Research Off and Running


The Ohio State University Colleges of Social Work and Veterinary Medicine are working to pilot an equine Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) intervention program for persons attending adult day services with early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

Drs. Holly Dabelko-Schoeny (Social Work) and Gwendolen Lorch (Veterinary Medicine) aim to examine the effect of the equine AAT intervention program on the psychological and behavioral symptoms of participants. Four graduate students, including Emily Darrough and Sarah DeAnna (Social Work) and Marie Jarden and Denise Johnson (Veterinary Medicine), are collecting measurements that the researchers hope will illustrate the benefits of a program for persons with Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias.

“This interdisciplinary approach strengthens our ability to investigate the human-animal bond with a population that people might assume could not benefit from interacting and caring with horses,” says Dabelko-Schoeny.

Ohio State partners with Heritage Adult Day Health Centers in Columbus, Ohio, and The Field of Dreams Equine Education Center in Blacklick, Ohio, to pilot the intervention. Heritage clients go to Field of Dreams once a week for four weeks, and the weekly intervention includes three rotations. Heritage clients learn how to groom and care for horses. Other activities include haltering and leading the horse, taking pictures of the horses, and simply being with the horses.

“It’s been neat to see the change from how clients act on the bus to when they are interacting with the horses,” says Darrough. “One lady is really good with the horses and she sings to them—sometimes she even sings them to sleep.”

Heritage staff report that the clients talk about the farm every day at the center and really look forward to the return visit. They even report increased engagement from at least one client both at the farm and in Heritage Day activities.

“Collaborating with the College of Social Work has always proven to be a great benefit to our organization and those we serve,” says Heritage Executive Director Erica Drewry, LISW. ”The positive effects of the Equine Therapy project have been evident from the first day our clients returned from the stables.”

The first Heritage group recently finished their visits to the farm. Current research shows the benefit of Equine AAT for other client groups, and researchers at Ohio State’s Colleges of Social Work and Veterinary Medicine hope to show its benefits for those with dementia as well.

For more information about this research, contact Communications Director Frankie Jones-Harris at jones-harris.1@osu.edu or 614/292-3540.