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Horse therapy for a child with an autism spectrum disorder

a case study / Merel Heineman


This study aims to analyze the behavioral changes in a girl who is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) during an intervention called the Horse Boy Method. Children are stimulated in their development by learning and playing. During the intervention, a horse that was specifically trained for this method was used. Earlier studies conclude that therapy with horses are a promising intervention for supporting children with ASD in their social and emotional development. However, as far as we know, there are no studies that focus on monitoring observable behavioral changes in social skills and emotion regulation in children with ASD during horse therapy. The current study is specifically aimed at these observable behavioral changes in children with ASD.


One girl (eight years old) with ASD participated in this study. During five weeks she received the Horse Boy Method therapy on a weekly basis. There were 3 outcome measures used to look into the behavioral changes. The Scale for Emotional Development (SEO-R) and the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) were filled in by both parents before and after the intervention to establish overall changes in her social and emotional development after the intervention. Her behavior was filmed and a codebook was used to measure behavioral changes in specific areas of functioning during the five intervention sessions. The areas that were studied were non-verbal and verbal interaction skills, turn- taking, separation anxiety, emotion regulation skills and processing sensory stimuli. Fourteen codes were used to analyze different parts of the therapy (horse riding, relaxation practice and interaction game).


During five weeks of Horse Boy Method therapy, the participant showed an increase in verbal interaction skills, turn taking, and emotion regulation skills. This means that the participant increasingly participated in conversations and talked about relevant subjects. Moreover, an increase in independence was observed during the interaction games, so the extent of supervision could decrease. Furthermore, a decrease of separation anxiety was observed. With regard to non-verbal behavior and sensory distress a variable pattern was observed.


This case study measured an overall positive effect of the intervention on this girl’s behavior. Horse Boy Method therapy may therefore be a promising intervention in helping children with ASD and their families. Further research, with a larger sample or by means of several case studies, is needed to increase the validity and generalization of this study.


Autism, Horse Therapy, Case Study

By: Merel Marie-Paule Heineman

Supervised by: S. van der Steen en K. Wolthuis

Last modified:08 July 2019 12.49 p.m.
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