HHRF Grant Recipient, November 2016
Beth Lanning, PhD, MCHES, is principal investigator on the 2014 HHRF-funded project “Examination of the Effects of Equine Assisted Activities on PTSD Symptoms, Quality of Life and Participation in Combat Veterans.” The purpose of the project was to assess changes in PTSD symptoms, quality of life and participation of combat veterans who participate in equine assisted activities. The study utilized a mixed-methods, waitlist-controlled, repeated measures trial of a standardized 8-week therapeutic riding intervention for combat veterans with PTSD. Behavioral changes were assessed four times during the study.
Director of the Public Health Undergraduate Program at Baylor University Robbins College of Health and Human Services in Waco, Texas, her research interests include health literacy, sexual violence prevention, quality of life in vulnerable populations in addition to human-animal interaction.
Interview conducted November 2016
How did you come to be a researcher in this field?
I was looking for a way to combine my professional research with my personal involvement with animals. Animals, especially horses have played a huge role in my life. I knew that animals can improve a person’s quality of life, but when I started to look in the professional literature for research to support that idea, I found very little. I reached out to several people who were involved in equine programs and in the process was told about the PATH (then NARHA) organization and annual conference. I decided to attend one of the PATH (then NARHA) conferences. Once there, I looked for practitioners to collaborate with, and that’s when I met Nancy Krenek from Ride On Center for Kids in Georgetown TX. She started one of the first veteran equine programs in the country, and we collaborated on research after that.
How did the concept for your HHRF funded research project come to be?
I first conducted a pilot study using therapeutic riding as an intervention for veterans and we saw that both depression and PTSD symptoms decreased as a result of the program. . After publishing the results of the pilot study, I thought we needed to go the next step and develop this study and look for funding. My home institution supported the beginning of the study and HHRF funded the second application I submitted.
Please provide an update on the status of your project.
The project is now complete. I presented part of the results at the PATH conference in Virginia and now it’s just a matter of submitting manuscripts from this study for possible publication in peer reviewed journals.
What do you feel is the most important aspect of your finding?
We saw a clinically and statistically significant improvement in PTSD symptoms over time. . We are also excited about the other positive changes that were documented during the 8 weeks of intervention. Plus, some of the changes were sustained even two months after the intervention ended, though they were somewhat diminished. The control group actually reported an increase in some depression and PTSD symptoms over the 8 weeks while the intervention group reported an improvement in the same symptoms Also, families and loved ones reported similar mental health improvements of the participants. This observational assessment (proxy report) by a family member was an important addition to this study.
How does your research and/or other research findings inform the work of EAA practitioners?
It provides empirical data to support the work of others. The findings of the research also raise additional questions such as the impact of the environment on the participants. The horse is definitely a part of this environment, but there are other parts that are also important. The barn itself, and being in a more rural area. And veterans working with the veteran participants helps them feel physically safe which then helps them feel emotionally safe. My other research projects have included working with children on the autism spectrum. The environmental component is important with that population as well.
What do you feel should be the next steps from this project to advance EAA/EAT research?
Next steps depend on the population. With veterans, quasi experimental studies and randomized control trials need to be conducted with a larger number of veterans. . Research in the area of EAA and children with autism is more developed than research with veterans. Dr. Robin Gabriels’ work added important empirical data to the growing body of evidence in EAA and autism research Next steps for this area of research should include examining the effects of equine movement on the participant, length of the program needed to achieve benefits, and critical components of the program. We’ve found that with both populations, the most dramatic changes appear to occur within the first 4 weeks, but we don’t really know if 8 weeks is enough, or if the program should be much longer to achieve maximum results.