Effectiveness of a Standardized Equine-Assisted Therapy Program for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Marta BorgiEmail author
  • Dafne Loliva
  • Stefania Cerino
  • Flavia Chiarotti
  • Aldina Venerosi
  • Maria Bramini
  • Enrico Nonnis
  • Marco Marcelli
  • Claudia Vinti
  • Chiara De Santis
  • Francesca Bisacco
  • Monica Fagerlie
  • Massimo Frascarelli
  • Francesca Cirulli
Original Paper


In this study the effectiveness of an equine-assisted therapy (EAT) in improving adaptive and executive functioning in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) was examined (children attending EAT, n = 15, control group n = 13; inclusion criteria: IQ > 70). Therapeutic sessions consisted in structured activities involving horses and included both work on the ground and riding. Results indicate an improvement in social functioning in the group attending EAT (compared to the control group) and a milder effect on motor abilities. Improved executive functioning was also observed (i.e. reduced planning time in a problem-solving task) at the end of the EAT program. Our findings provide further support for the use of animal-assisted intervention programs as complementary intervention strategies for children with ASD.


Autism spectrum disorder Animal-assisted interventions Horses Rehabilitation 



We would like to thank the Department of Equestrian Rehabilitation of the Italian Equestrian Federation (Federazione Italiana Sport Equestri, FISE) for their generous support; Lino Cavedon, Luca Farina (Scientific Director), National Centre for the Animal-Assisted Intervention (Centro di Referenza Nazionale per gli Interventi Assistiti con gli Animali, Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie), Claudia Cerulli and Attilio Parisi (IUSM, Rome), and Stefano Seripa (DSM ASL ROMA F) for their precious advices during study design; Maddalena Insogna and Giada Reali for their support during data analysis; Daniela Zoppi and Antonella Piciullo (Centro di Riabilitazione Equestre, Villa Buon Respiro, Viterbo) for the drawings used during therapeutic sessions.

Author Contributions

MBo, FCi, SC conceived of the study, participated in its design and coordination and drafted the manuscript; DL, AV participated in the coordination of the study and helped to draft the manuscript; FCh participated in the design of the study, performed the statistical analysis and helped to draft the manuscript; MFr participated in the design and coordination of the study; MBr, EN, MM participated in the design and interpretation of the data and performed the measurements; CV, CDS, FB, MFa performed the measurements: All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marta Borgi
    • 1
    Email author
  • Dafne Loliva
    • 2
  • Stefania Cerino
    • 3
  • Flavia Chiarotti
    • 4
  • Aldina Venerosi
    • 4
  • Maria Bramini
    • 5
  • Enrico Nonnis
    • 5
  • Marco Marcelli
    • 6
  • Claudia Vinti
    • 7
  • Chiara De Santis
    • 8
  • Francesca Bisacco
    • 9
  • Monica Fagerlie
    • 10
  • Massimo Frascarelli
    • 2
  • Francesca Cirulli
    • 1
  1. 1.Section of Behavioral Neuroscience, Department of Cell Biology and NeuroscienceIstituto Superiore di SanitàRomeItaly
  2. 2.Sapienza University of RomeRomeItaly
  3. 3.Italian Society for Psychosocial RehabilitationRomeItaly
  4. 4.Section of Neurotoxicology and Neuroendocrinology, Department of Cell Biology and NeuroscienceIstituto Superiore di SanitàRomeItaly
  5. 5.DSM ASL RM DRomeItaly
  6. 6.UOC Neuropsichiatria infantile ASL VTViterboItaly
  7. 7.A.S.D. Equitazione per tuttiFiumicino, RomeItaly
  8. 8.A.S. Il giardino di FilippoViterboItaly
  9. 9.A.S.D. Associazione RubensTurinItaly
  10. 10.A.S. Palidoro EquitazioneRomeItaly

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