Experimental Trial Demonstrates Positive Effects of Equine Facilitated Learning on Child Social Competence

Patricia Pendry & Stephanie Roeter

Washington State University, Pullman, Washington

Although equine facilitated programs have gained in popularity over the last decade, virtually nothing is known about the causal effects of equine facilitated interventions on human development and wellbeing. To address this gap in the literature, researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial to determine if an 11-week equine facilitated learning program enhanced 5th-8th grade children's social competence. Children were recruited for program participation through referral by school counselors and recruitment in schools and community agencies. Researchers then randomly assigned 64 physically and mentally able children to an experimental group or waitlisted control group. Children in the experimental group participated in an 11-week equine facilitated learning program designed to increase social competence through a series of once-weekly, 90-minute sessions of individual, team, and group-focused equine facilitated activities, whereas children in the control group did not until 16 weeks later. Parents of children in both groups provided ratings of child social competence at the beginning and again at the end of the 11-week program. Results indicated significant group differences in mean levels of child social competence at posttest (p = .020), suggesting a moderate positive effect of program participation (d = .61). Waitlisted children in the control group who completed the program at a later date demonstrated significantly higher posttest levels of social competence after program completion (p = .000), compared to their own pretest scores. Using a lagged dependent variable approach, program effects were robust (p = .026) when simultaneously considering children's pretest levels of social competence, age, gender, and referral status.

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Keywords: child development, equine facilitated intervention, experimental trial, HAI, social competence
Posted in 2013, Volume 1, No. 1