Parental perceptions of the effectiveness of equine therapy for children with special health care needs
The purpose of the research was to examine the parental perceptions of the effectiveness of equine therapy for children with special health care needs as evidenced by a positive change in the child's behavior and in the child's health following therapeutic riding. It is estimated that over 10 million children in the United States are confronted by special health care needs annually. Over 8.8 million households have at least one child with a special health care need. This equates to 13.9% of children ages 0-17 and 21.8% of households (Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative, 2010). Since time is limited in the identification and intervention process due to the potential developmental repercussions facing the child, health care objectives should support any method that could better serve the child. Animal-assisted interventions have proven successful for a variety of settings and populations. The human-animal bond, along with inherent characteristics of the animal, provides the foundation for understanding the potential of this therapeutic partnership. The mixed-method study incorporated a convenience sample of 27 children between the ages of 20 months and 15 years who were involved in therapeutic riding at a center in North Texas during the spring of 2010. Post-therapy surveys were utilized for collection of data. Quantitative data was extracted from the PedsQL Quality of life Inventory Scale, the PedsQL Cognitive Functioning Scale, and the PedsQL Family Impact Module. Simple logistic regressions were conducted on the PedsQL subscale scores and overall PedsQL scores in order to predict the perceived benefits. Qualitative data was drawn from the Demographic Survey and the Therapeutic Riding Survey. Both quantitative and qualitative findings supported the effectiveness of equine therapy for Special Health Care Needs Children, regardless of age or developmental stage. Positive changes were seen in behavior, in health, and in improved quality of life factors for the child. Qualitative findings revealed that parents perceived that therapeutic riding decreased anxiety in their children, enhanced mental focus, improved motor skills, promoted communication, increased motivation, and increased self-confidence and self-worth. Findings also supported perceived benefits beyond behavior change, including an increase in cognitive functioning, auditory processing, and improvement in overall mental health.