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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 adolescents, with increased levels of hope and decreased levels of depression.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. No person or organization benefits, financially or otherwise, by the publication of this research.

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Correspondence to Karen E. Frederick.



Texas Education Agency (2009) Definition of At-Risk

“The statutory criteria for at-risk status include each student who is under 21 years of age and who:

  1. 1.

    Was not advanced from one grade level to the next for one or more school years;

  2. 2.

    Is in grades 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, or 12 and did not maintain an average equivalent to 70 on a scale of 100 in two or more subjects in the foundation curriculum during a semester in the preceding or current school year or is not maintaining such an average in two or more subjects in the foundation curriculum in the current semester;

  3. 3.

    Did not perform satisfactorily on an assessment instrument administered to the student under TEC Subchapter B, Chapter 39, and who has not in the previous or current school year subsequently performed on that instrument or another appropriate instrument at a level equal to at least 110 percent of the level of satisfactory performance on that instrument;

  4. 4.

    Is in prekindergarten, kindergarten or grades 1, 2, or 3 and did not perform satisfactorily on a readiness test or assessment instrument administered during the current school year;

  5. 5.

    Is pregnant or is a parent;

  6. 6.

    Has been placed in an alternative education program in accordance with §TEC 37.006 during the preceding or current school year;

  7. 7.

    Has been expelled in accordance with §TEC 37.007 during the preceding or current school year;

  8. 8.

    Is currently on parole, probation, deferred prosecution, or other conditional release;

  9. 9.

    Was previously reported through the PEIMS to have dropped out of school;

  10. 10.

    Is a student of limited English proficiency, as defined by §TEC 29.052;

  11. 11.

    Is in the custody or care of the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services or has, during the current school year, been referred to the department by a school official, officer of the juvenile court, or law enforcement official;

  12. 12.

    Is homeless, as defined by 42 U.S.C. Section 11302 and its subsequent amendments; or

  13. 13.

    Resided in the preceding school year or resides in the current school year in a residential placement facility in the district, including a detention facility, substance abuse treatment facility, emergency shelter, psychiatric hospital, halfway house, or foster group home.”

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Frederick, K.E., Ivey Hatz, J. & Lanning, B. Not Just Horsing Around: The Impact of Equine-Assisted Learning on Levels of Hope and Depression in At-Risk Adolescents. Community Ment Health J 51, 809–817 (2015).

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