In collaboration with Keck School of Medicine

Can Equine-Assisted Therapy Relieve Chronic Pain?

Person riding a horse with helmet on for equine-assisted therapy

Many people love horses. They enjoy watching their grace and beauty, and many will even try riding them. For years, people have touted the benefits of horseback riding or spending time with horses for those with a myriad of conditions, including autism, Down syndrome, emotional disabilities, learning disabilities, spinal cord injuries, and more.

Can Horseback Riding Help Chronic Pain?

In the August 2020 issue of the journal Medicina, researchers shared information from their study regarding the effect that equine-assisted therapy may have on those with chronic pain [1]. To conduct the study, they conducted a literature search among three databases to locate any research that had been done on the specific topic. Seven of the 11 articles were randomized controlled trials.

Research conducted on equine-assisted therapy’s effects on chronic pain largely focused on using horse riding simulators rather than real horses. The analysis of the research concludes that horse riding simulators significantly reduce pain levels in patients with lower back pain.

While there was ample information available to confirm the desirable effects that horse riding simulators offered, the researchers felt there’s not enough studies conducted on equine therapy that involved real horses. They recommended to increase research and education in the area to gain a better understanding of how equine therapy with real horses may provide benefits.

More About the Research

A common condition that many people who experience chronic pain have is depression. Prior research that has been done regarding equine-assisted therapy and its beneficial effects on depression has also been documented. A study published in 2018 in the journal PLoS One looked at equine therapy (with real horses) in relation to helping veterans who were wounded, injured, or ill [2]. Researchers in the study concluded that equine-assisted therapy provided meaningful benefits in the reduction of depression and stress.

Evidence, therefore, points to pain relief not only with chronic pain, but also depression. Many rural areas and suburbs offer equine therapy programs or beginner horseback riding classes. Equine therapy is one more option available to those who have chronic pain, or the depression that it may help bring on, ensuring that those who suffer have a variety of options they can consider for their pain management plan.

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  1. Medicina. Effects of equine-assisted therapies or hose-riding simulators on chronic pain. August 2020.
  2. PLoS One. Evaluation of an equine-assisted therapy program for veterans who identify as wounded, injured, or ill and their partners. 2018.
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