We’re doing right by our therapy horses

A new study shows that America's therapy horses are in good health, have reasonable workloads and receive high quality care.

By and large, the nation’s therapy horses are in good health, have reasonable workloads and receive high quality care, according to a study conducted at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky.

Murray State researchers sent a 20-question survey to 659 therapeutic horseback riding programs affiliated with the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH), a nonprofit organization that develops standards, issues credentials and offers educational programs related to equine-assisted activities and therapies. Of the initial surveys sent, 270 were returned for a 40 percent response rate.

Based on the data from the survey, the researchers determined that the average therapy program had 10 horses, most between the ages of 16 and 20. Geldings were more commonly used than mares and Quarter Horse and stock breeds predominated.

The nation’s therapy horses are, for the most part, in good health, have reasonable workloads and receive high quality care.

The top health issues reported among therapy horses included limb lameness and back soreness, and these problems were most often addressed with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, chiropractic adjustment, and massage. In general, the researchers note, the therapy horses appeared to have fewer health problems than have been reported among the general equine population in other studies.

The respondents also indicated that most therapy horses have steady but not unduly taxing work schedules: They worked an average of four days a week for two hours a day, well below the PATH recommendation of a maximum of six hours of work per day, six days a week.

Reference: “Characterization of horse use in therapeutic horseback riding programs in the United States: A pilot survey,” Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, September 2020

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