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Developing Bio-Behavioral Mixed Methods Research Designs for Equine-Facilitated Learning Interventions

Research Team


Principal Investigator: Michelle Howell Smith

Funding Information

Funding Agency: Horses for Healing Equine Therapy and Research Center

Award Date: May 2, 2019

End Date: Aug 31, 2019


Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is among the most common medical conditions for children. While medication is the primary treatment for ADHD, additional services are often needed to support children with ADHD. 

This study explores the impact of an equine-facilitated learning (EFL) intervention on pre-pubescent youth diagnosed with ADHD. It integrates traditional assessment data, physiologic data, and qualitative interview and observational data to provide a more complete understanding of the potential impact of the intervention. 

The project includes six youth, grades three through eight, with ADHD. At the beginning of the six-week program, participants’ levels of cortisol and alpha-amylase — hormones secreted through saliva — are examined. Because both hormones have natural rhythms of rising and falling throughout the day, a pattern is determined and compared to the riding days.

Data are gathered to document how those patterns change over time, including general variations and in-the-moment changes while riding.
During riding sessions, participants wear heart-rate monitors to record heart rate variability to measure overall health and stress response. Additionally, functional MRI data scans are taken of the brain to determine whether neural connections fluctuate during a resting state. 
Along with the riding component, participants also do ground-based work such as grooming the horse, learning how to put the tack on the animal and leading it through a simple obstacle course.

At the end of the six weeks, follow-up surveys and interviews are conducted. The results will be used to inform and support proposals for external funding.

Research, Measurement and Evaluation Methods, Academic Intervention & Learning

Michelle Howell Smith, CYFS research assistant professor, is exploring the effects of equine-assisted activities on children diagnosed with ADHD.
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