Expanding The Hoofprints of How Horses Transform Human Lives:
The Equine-Assisted Collaborative for Health
Equine-assisted refers to the integration of horses in a dynamic and intentional manner to promote health and well-being for humans. Clinicians work with horses to enhance counseling, psychotherapy, physical therapy, and recreational therapy. Horses are also vital in learning models to encourage educational outcomes, personal development and in enhancing organizational cultures. The horses can be integrated on the ground, with humans interacting in groups or individually. Often groundwork includes navigating obstacles, which serve as metaphors for life skills or therapeutic goals. One-on-one interactions with horses can include themes of self-care, communication, and respect. Unique to transformation with horses, human participants can also drive (i.e., using a carriage drawn by a horse) or individually mount on the back through riding or vaulting.
Assessing the transformation of health through these horse-human interactions is similarly as diverse as the approach. Programs are often focused on engagement or satisfaction to tell the story to funders—but what are we missing if we aren’t measuring functional outcomes? As a long-time equestrian, Kimberly Tumlin, Ph.D., recognized the potential of the TCOM conceptual framework to shift the way equine-assisted programs think about assessment.
Dr. Tumlin joined IPH-C on July 1, 2023, and launched a collaborative space to build a community around research, measurement, and discussion of the efficacy and efficient approaches to support the equine-assisted community. The Equine-Assisted Collaborative for Health was borne out of the need to establish teams to advance science, connect programs, and provide a space for community members to share best practices
The partnership vision of EACH includes practitioners to guide others in ensuring practices promote physical, mental, behavioral, and spiritual health. Researchers share the effectiveness of interventions through the dissemination and translation of published research. Caregivers provide insights into what they need to feel support for growth and development as they journey. Volunteers learn about safe practices, how they contribute to the healing environment, and connect with locations where they can volunteer. The intention of EACH is to give voice to scientific advancement in the field of equine-assisted practices through these active partnerships in measurement, methods, and precision analytics.
Community partnerships have been instrumental in the design and launch of EACH. One such community member, Elizabeth Warson, Ph.D., founder of Health Pathways, LLC, which includes both arts-informed and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapies, combines meaning-making experiences incorporating the expressive arts, equine-assisted EMDR, and nature-based mindfulness practice. She has an indigenous heritage and partners with indigenous communities focusing on wellness and cancer survivorship, American Indian medicine and art therapy, coming-of-age ceremonies, traditional healing camps for children, and equine-assisted expressive arts therapy for individuals in recovery. “As an EACH member, I have been able to design approaches to the measurement of the whole-person care for these underserved communities. As an avid rider and a descendant of horse and mule trainers, I know first-hand the healing power of a horse and herd behavior.” Dr. Warson said. Her journey into equine-assisted practices evolved from the expressive arts. Thus, she has shared her wealth of knowledge using both a co- and self-regulatory sensorimotor practice, resulting in transformational meaning-making experiences with the EACH partners.
Dr. Kimberly I. Tumlin’s purpose is to advance the science of asset-based resilience in people who interact with horses. Her research at the University of Kentucky builds on the growing evidence that the development of strengths outcomes contributes to healing. Nationally, services using horses for human health lack a single approach for measuring impact. To bridge this gap, Dr. Tumlin is working with the Transformational Collaborative Outcomes Management conceptual framework and equine-assisted organizations to understand how, when, and why psychosocial, learning, and physical activity approaches help in various populations. In addition, as the Director of Research for the Equestrian Athlete Initiative at the UK Sports Medicine Research Institute, she combines her lifelong equestrianism to research concussion injury, the mental health of athletes, and worker well-being.