PhD Scientific Days 2023

Budapest, 22-23 June 2023

Mental Health Sciences - Posters N

Psychophysiology of human-horse interaction in equine-assisted interventions – A pilot study

Eszter Bálint, Semmelweis University, Institute of Behavioural Sciences, Budapest

Text of the abstract

The bond between human and horse has a long and varied history. Due to their specific social-emotional skills, horses are particularly suitable for animal-assisted therapies. Horses are often referred to as a mirror, and this is not empty symbolism. Researchers found that there is an observable emotional and physiological transfer between humans and horses. A good example of this is the experiment of Keeling et al. (2009), where the anticipated fear experiences by the persons leading the horses affected the animals' behaviour, which was also evident in the joint increase of their heart rate.
According to research, horses are able to react to people's emotional states. In examining the process of equine assisted interventions, it is also important to observe the order of reactions: who reacts first in a given situation. Horses can have a calming effect, but they can also take over the inner tension of the person who comes into contact with them. The uniqueness of horse-assisted situations is that here the horse-human relationship is actually a dryad (client - horse - therapist), so the psychophysiological changes appearing in all members must be included in the examination of emotional transfer and synchronization.
The aim of the research is to acquire a more precise knowledge of the interaction between the client, the horse, and the therapist. With better understanding comes the ability to plan interventions more precisely and thus making the process more effective. The scientific support of equine assisted therapy increases with accessible studies with appropriate research methodology, and enables a better understanding of the background mechanisms that play a role in the process.
In our research we will monitor the dryads with the use of Polar H10 heart rate sensors during a standardised equine assisted situation which includes different tasks with the horses. We hope to prove that an emotional transfer takes place between the horse, the client and the therapist, and the start and course of the reaction can be measured with psychophysiological indicators. Also, all members of the horse-client-therapist triad participate in emotional transfer and psychophysiological synchrony. The synchronicity between horse and man can be detected and measured on a psychophysiological level.