Equine-assisted therapy (EAT) is a therapeutic technique that has been examined for improving physical, emotional, social, cognitive, educational, and behavioral skills in children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This literature review examines the usefulness of the approach for children diagnosed with ASD. The goal of the search strategy used was to include relevant scientific articles published examining EAT for children diagnosed with ASD. Of the 12 studies examined, 11 researchers demonstrated efficacy for increased physical and social functioning, communication, sensory sensitivity, sensory motivation, self-regulation, adaptive skills, motor skills, improved volition, as well as decreased aberrant behavior and severity of symptoms. The majority of the research documented improvements in functioning; however, these conclusions were qualified by numerous factors that limit the interpretation of the results.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Achenback, T. M., & Rescoria, L. A. (2001). Child behavior checklist for ages 6 to 18. Burlington: University of Vermont, Research Center for Children, Youth, and Families.
Aman, M. B., & Singh, N. N. (1994). Aberrant behavior checklist-community. New York: Slossen Educational Publications.
Bass, M. M., Duchowny, C. A., & Llabre, M. M. (2009). The effect of therapeutic horseback riding on social functioning in children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39, 1261–1267. Retrieved from http://paths2learning.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/social-functioning.pdf.
Basu, S., Kafkes, A., Schatz, R., Kiraly, A., & Kielhofner, G. (2008). The pediatric volitional questionnaire (PVQ) version 2.1. Model of human occupation clearing house. Chicago: University of Illinois at Chicago Press.
Bowers, M. J., & MacDonald, P. M. (2001). The effectiveness of equine-facilitated psychotherapy with at-risk adolescents: a pilot study. Journal of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences, 15, 62–76.
Bruininks, R. H., & Bruininks, B. (2005). Bruininks-Oseretsky test of motor proficiency. Eagan: Pearson Education.
Bustad, L. K., & Hines, L. (1984). Our professional responsibilities relative to human-animal interactions. The Canadian Veterinary Journal, 25, 369–376. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1790657/.
Casenhiser, D. M., Binns, A., McGill, F., Morderer, O., & Shanker, S. G. (2014). Measuring and supporting language function for children with autism: evidence from a randomized control trial of social-interaction-based therapy. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45(3), 846–857. doi:10.1007/s10803-014-2242-3.
Cawley, R., Cawley, D., & Retter, K. (1994). Therapeutic horseback riding and self-concept in adolescents with special educational needs. Anthrozoös, 7(2), 129–134. doi:10.2752/089279394787001934.
Centers for Disease Control. (2014). Prevalence of autism spectrum disorder among children aged 8 yearsautism and developmental disabilities monitoring network, 11 sites, United States, 2010. MMWR Surveillance Summaries, 63(2), 1–21.
Contstantino, J. N., & Gruber, C. P. (2005). Social responsiveness scale. Los Angeles: Western Psychological Services.
Dunn, W. (1999). The sensory profile: examiner’s manual. San Antonio: Psychological Corporation.
Dunn, W. (2006). The sensory profile school companion. San Antonio: Pearson.
Endicott, J., Nee, J., Harrison, W., & Blumenthal, R. (1993). Quality of life enjoyment and satisfaction questionnaire; a new measure. Psychopharmacology Bulletin, 29(2), 321–326.
Falco, M. (2014). Autism rates now 1 in 68 U.S. children: CDC. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/27/health/cdc-autism/.
Funahashi, A., Gruebler, A., Aoki, T., Kadone, H., & Suzuki, K. (2014). Brief report: the smiles of a child with autism spectrum disorder during an animal-assisted activity may facilitate social positive behaviors—quantitative analysis with smile-detecting interface. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(3), 685–693. doi:10.1007/s10803-013-1898-4.
Gabriels, R. L., Agnew, J. A., Holt, K. D., Shoffner, A., Zhaoxing, P., Ruzzano, S., et al. (2012). Pilot study measuring the effects of therapeutic horseback riding on school-age children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 6, 578–588. doi:10.1016/j.rasd.2011.09.007.
García-Gómez, A., Risco, M. L., Rubio, J. C., Guerrero, E., & García-Peña, I. M. (2014). Effects of a program of adapted therapeutic horse-riding in a group of autism spectrum disorder children. Electronic Journal of Research in Educational Psychology, 12(1), 107–128. doi:10.14204/ejrep.32.13115.
Gatty, C. M. (2001). Psychosocial impact of therapeutic riding: a pilot study. Equine-Facilitated Mental Health Association, 5(2), 8.
Giagazoglou, P., Arabatzi, F., Kellis, E., Liga, M., Karra, C., & Amiridis, I. (2013). Muscle reaction function of individuals with intellectual disabilities may be improved through therapeutic use of a horse. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 34(9), 2442–2448. doi:10.1016/j.ridd.2013.04.015.
Gilliam, J. E. (2006). The Gilliam autism rating scale (2nd ed.). Austin: Pro-Ed, Inc.
Holm, M. B., Baird, J. M., Kim, Y., Rajora, K. B., D’Silva, D., Podolinsky, L., Mazefsky, C., & Minshew, N. (2014). Therapeutic horseback riding outcomes of parent-identified goals for children with autism spectrum disorder: an ABA’ multiple case design examining dosing and generalization to the home and community. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(4), 937–947. doi:10.1007/s10803-013-1949-x.
Jenkins, S. R., & DiGennaro Reed, F. D. (2013). An experimental analysis of the effects of therapeutic horseback riding on the behavior of children with autism. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 7(6), 721–740. doi:10.1016/j.rasd.2013.02.008.
Kern, J. K., Fletcher, C. R., Garver, C. R., Mehta, J. A., Grannemann, B. D., Knox, K. R., … Trivedi, M. H. (2011). Prospective trial of equine-assisted activities in autism spectrum disorder. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 17(3), 14–20. ISSN:1078–6791.
Lai, M., Lombardo, M., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2014). Autism. The Lancet, 383(9920), 896–910. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(13)61539-1.
Landsberger, H. A. (1958). Hawthorne revisited. Ithica.
Langraf, J. M., & Ware, J. E. (2008). The CHQ user’s manual. Boston: HealthActCHQ Inc.
Lanning, B. A., Baier, M., Ivey-Hatz, J., Krenek, N., & Tubbs, J. D. (2014). Effects of equine assisted activities on autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(8), 1897–1907. doi:10.1007/s10803-014-2062-5.
Lewis, J. M. (1989). The birth of a family. New York: Brunner/Mazel.
Nelson, K., Axtell, J., Derby, K. M., Moug, R., Berrera, S., & McLaughlin, T. F. (2011). A preliminary analysis of therapeutic horseback riding. International Journal of Social Sciences and Education, 1(4), 644–656. Retrieved from http://www.ijsse.com/sites/default/files/issues/2011/v1i4/paper%2027/paper%2027.pdf.
Poresky, R. (1996). Companion animals and other factors affecting young children’s development. Anthrozoös, 9(4), 159–168. doi:10.2752/089279396787001437.
Reynolds, C. R., & Kamphaus, R. W. (1992). BASC: behavior assessment system for children. Circle Pines: American Guidance Service.
Rimland, B., & Edelson, M. (1999). The autism treatment evaluation checklist (ATEC). San Diego: Autism Research Institute. Available at http://www.autism.com/ind_atec_report.asp.
Schalock, R., & Verdugo, M. A. (2002). Quality of life for human service practitioners. Washington, DC: American Association on Mental Retardation.
Schopler, E., Reichler, R. J., & Renner, B. R. (1988). The childhood autism rating scale. Los Angeles: Western Psychological Services.
Selby, A., & Smith-Osborne, A. (2013). A systematic review of effectiveness of complementary and adjunct therapies and interventions involving equines. Health Psychology, 32(4), 418–432. doi:10.1037/a0029188.
Sparrow, S. S., Cicchetti, D. V., & Balla, D. A. (2005). Vineland adaptive behavior scales (2nd ed.). Circle Pines: American Guidance Service.
Steele-Johnson, D., Beauregard, R. S., Hoover, P. B., & Schmidt, A. M. (2000). Goal orientation and task demand effects on motivation, affect, and performance. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 85(5), 724–738. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.85.5.724.
Taylor, R., Kielhofner, G., Smith, C., Butler, S., Cahill, S., Ciukaj, M., & Gehman, M. (2009). Volitional change in children with autism: a single-case design study of the impact of hippotherapy on motivation. Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, 25(2), 192–200. doi:10.1080/01642120902859287.
Van den Hout, C. M. A., & Bragonje, S. (2010). The effect of equine assisted therapy in children with autism spectrum disorders. Human Movement Sciences: psychomotor therapy. Retrieved from http://static1.squarespace.com/static/55b1504ae4b0824dcbc87ee4/t/55b542c5e4b020bb6b88d49f/1437942469809/The+effect+of+equine+therapy+in+autism.pdf
Varni, J. W., Seid, M., & Kurtin, P. S. (2001). PedsQL 4.0: reliability and validity of the pediatric quality of life inventory version 4.0 generic core scales in healthy and patient populations. Medical Care, 8, 800–812
Vidrine, M., Owen-Smith, P., & Faulkner, P. (2002). Equine-facilitated group psychotherapy: applications for therapeutic vaulting. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 23, 587–603. doi:10.1080/01612840290052730.
Ward, S. C., Whalon, K., Rusnak, K., Wendell, K., & Paschall, N. (2013). The association between therapeutic horseback riding and the social communication and sensory reactions of children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43(9), 2190–2198. doi:10.1007/s10803-013-177.
Weber, Y., & Westmoquette, K. (2010). Equine-assisted therapy as a treatment for children with autism spectrum disorders—a qualitative study. Karolinska Institutet, 6–19. Retrieved from http://www.ridterapi-novalis.se/.
This study was funded by the first author, Ayla Mapes, out of personal funds. No grant monies were involved.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
This article does not contain any studies performed directly by any of the authors with human participants or animals—this is a review article of existing research.
Informed consent is not applicable for this review article.
• Equine-assisted therapy is a therapeutic technique that has been promoted as an effective method to improve physical, emotional, social, cognitive, educational, and behavioral skills in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
• This review examined the available scholarly literature examining research on this approach for children with ASD.
• Of the 12 studies examined, 11 studies demonstrated efficacy for increased physical and social functioning, communication, sensory sensitivity, sensory motivation, self-regulation, adaptive skills, motor skills, as well as decreased aberrant behavior and severity of symptoms, and improved volition.
• The majority of the research documented improvements in functioning; however, these conclusions were qualified by numerous factors that limit the interpretation of the results.
From a thesis submitted to the Honors Program of Colorado State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Honors Degree in Psychology.
About this article
Cite this article
Mapes, A.R., Rosén, L.A. Equine-Assisted Therapy for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: a Comprehensive Literature Review. Rev J Autism Dev Disord 3, 377–386 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40489-016-0090-0
- Equine-assisted therapy
- Autism spectrum disorder