The aim of this observational pilot study was to assess the safety, feasibility, preliminary outcomes, and predictors of participant response as a result of implementing an equine-assisted intervention within a residential substance abuse treatment program at a large Veterans Administration medical center. A secondary aim was to evaluate psychological instruments for use in future, more rigorous studies. The overarching goal was to complete the necessary work to prepare for a large randomized controlled trial of this intervention for Veterans with addictive disorders.
Materials and Methods
Participants were 33 Veterans, 29 males and 4 females, who participated in one 4-hour session of combined equine-assisted learning and equine-assisted psychotherapy during an admission to a residential substance abuse treatment program. Preintervention and postintervention instruments were utilized to assess changes in affect, anxiety, and craving. Demographic and diagnostic variables were evaluated for the potential to predict outcomes.
The intervention was safe and feasible to utilize as there were no adverse outcomes to patients, staff, or equines. The State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, Craving Experience Questionnaire, and Positive and Negative Affect Scale revealed preliminary findings of significant preintervention to postintervention decreases in anxiety, negative affect, and craving, as well as increased positive affect. Lastly, the presence or absence of a history of suicide attempts and/or suicidal ideation were predictive of some postintervention scores.
While more rigorous studies are needed, these results indicate that the intervention evaluated in this study is safe and feasible to utilize for Veterans admitted to a residential substance abuse treatment program. Furthermore, preliminary outcomes suggest that this intervention, and perhaps other equine-assisted interventions, has the potential to be beneficial to Veterans with addictive disorders as well as those at risk of suicide. The psychological instruments used in this intervention appear to be appropriate for use in future investigations. Additionally, more rigorous studies are warranted, and this work provides the necessary first steps needed to proceed with those investigations.