Date of Award


Document Type


Granting Institution

Lynn University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)

Degree Program

Educational Leadership


College of Education

First Advisor

Frederick L. Dembowski

Second Advisor

Ann M. Crawford

Third Advisor

Sonia Villaverde


Disabilities affect 54 million people and 4.4 million children in the U.S. and are of importance to special education faculty (Center for Disease Control 2000). A survey design examines the effectiveness of human-animal interaction, specifically horseback riding, in children with varying disabilities.

Therapeutic horseback riding as an animal assisted therapy, aims to promote mind and body integration through movement (psychomotricity) and the human-animal bond (Delta Society, 2001a; Spink, 1993, All, Loving & Crane, 1999). Effectiveness is measured by parent assessment of improvement in 67 child behaviors resulting from child participation in horseback riding, using a new Horseback Riding Survey. Behaviors are organized in five Likert subscales, Self-care, Cognitive/School Learning, Physical- Motor, Psychological/Emotional, and Social Communication1 Interaction. Internal consistency of each subscale is good using Coefficient Alpha and Split-Half tests for reliability. Criterion-related validity is established with 49 significant correlations of subscale behaviors with a single-item measure of overall horseback riding effectiveness.

A convenience sample consists of 64 parents of children aged 4-19, with varying disabilities participating in six therapeutic horseback riding facilities in south Florida. The average child's age is 10.7 years, and of white or Hispanic background. Parents report 75% of children have more than one disability, with disability prevalence rates of 30% or higher in: learning, speech and language, mental retardation, orthopedic impairments, autism, and developmental delay.

Using one-sample t-tests, all behaviors on the subscales show improvement since beginning horseback riding with 27 behaviors significantly higher than a score of 3.5 (range 1-5). Behaviors with the greatest improvement are range of motion, mobility, balance, posture, self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-image.

Mentally retarded children usually have more disabilities than autistic children do. They show significantly greater improvements when compared with autistic children in range of motion and mobility. Physically disabled children show significantly greater improvement in self-image than autistic children. The length of time, in months, in horseback riding participation is positively associated with behavioral improvement across all subscales.

Findings support the beneficial effects of therapeutic riding in children with varying disabilities. Future studies should examine relationships identified. Therapeutic riding should be considered as an alternative therapy for children with varying disabilities.



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