Project aims to assess the impact of horses on human mental health

The impact of horses on human wellbeing and mental health is to be measured in a new research project.

The University of Exeter Business School is to assess the benefits of courses run by Horsemanship for Health UK, a community interest company that works with the NHS and other bodies to help participants “develop their self-understanding and deepen relationships through direct contact with horses”.

Participants include those suffering from mental health conditions or issues that affect their wellbeing.

“Their social education courses encourage wisdom, wonder and wellbeing through mindful reflection in nature and central to their work is the interaction and connection between the humans and the animals,” said a spokesman for the university.

Academic Donna Poade has been awarded funding to evaluate the effectiveness of the courses, which have been running in a farm near Newton Abbot for three years.

“The feedback from people taking part in Horsemanship for Health has been incredibly positive. It ties in with other work demonstrating the impact on wellbeing and mental health of innovative therapies based on mindfulness principles,” said Dr Poade.

“What we want to do is to measure that impact, the benefits and value of the programme, with the results then shared with policy makers and NHS professionals who consider the options for treating those with mental health conditions.”

Karen, who took part in a recent course, said it was the start of her recovery from mental health issues.

“I had an epiphany; what I really need is to open myself up to my feelings, learn how to mindfully accept them before I can conduct a strategy for managing them,” she said.

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“I have always been more connected with animals than people, but for me the experience was unusual. I recognised things about myself through the horse that I feel will be vital for my journey, things I wouldn’t have considered before but at that time were in perfect clarity. Most of all, I felt a huge relief that for a moment, I wasn’t at all wrapped up in my own mind. I wasn’t consumed by my suffering. I was content.

“Additionally, I am now moving forward with a confidence in myself I don’t feel I ever truly have had.”

Horsemanship for Health director and co-founder Belinda Seaward said the equines on the courses “act as role models for healthy living”.

“With their help, we support people to shift their thinking and develop new insights so that they may better understand themselves and learn how to live with deeper wisdom and wellbeing,” she added.

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