Not Just Horsing Around: The Impact of Equine-Assisted Learning on Levels of Hope and Depression in At-Risk Adolescents

Equine-assisted learning (EAL) is an experiential modality which utilizes horses to provide a unique learning experience for personal growth. Research by Damon et al. (Appl Dev Sci 7:119–128, 2003) suggests a positive relationship between hope and positive developmental trajectories. Hagen et al. (Am J Orthopsychiatr 75:211–219, 2005) showed hope to be a protective factor associated with adaptive functioning in at-risk youth. Ashby et al. (J Couns Dev 89:131–139, 2011) found a significant inverse relationship between hope and depression: as hope increases, depression decreases. The current study investigates the impact of a non-riding EAL curriculum entitled L.A.S.S.O. (Leading Adolescents to Successful School Outcomes) on levels of hope and depression in at-risk youth. The study uses an experimental design with longitudinal, repeated measures. Participants were randomly assigned to treatment and control groups. Participants in the treatment received 5 weeks of EAL, while participants in the control group received treatment as usual. Repeated measures ANOVA of participants’ levels of hope and depression showed statistically significant improvements in the treatment group as compared with the control group. Even a brief (5-week) intervention of EAL had a positive impact on the lives and attitudes of at-risk

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Philippa Williams