A research study conducted at the University of Kentucky found that working with horses could increase emotional intelligence. The total number of research subjects in the study was 21, and they were all nurses. Ten were from a neuroscience surgery service unit and eleven worked in trauma and acute care at a hospital.
The group of eleven nurses was put through a one-day workshop where they did exercises with five horses. Each exercise was created to foster emotional intelligence facets such as social awareness, self-management, self-awareness and relationship management. For the group that worked with horses their scores on all the four facets listed above increased, whereas they did not for the nurses that did not attend the daylong workshop. (Both groups of nurses were give an emotional intelligence evaluation before the horse workshop took place).
A report on the University of Kentucky website doesn’t go into detail about the specific exercises performed with the horses. The nurses that did interact with them were required to complete surveys about their experiences in the exercises immediately afterwards and three months later.
‘If horses can increase our ability to understand ourselves and others better, then the healthcare industry is a perfect place for studies like these. When nurses and doctors benefit from collaborating with horses then ultimately their patients also benefit,’ said Lisa Pohl, the research project manager.
A potential critique of this kind of research study is that there is a leading quality to the design. In other words, women who work in healthcare may like horses and even have previous experience with them, so they may be inclined to report positive experiences with them in terms of emotions. Such a bias may make them more likely to say that working with horses increased their emotional intelligence, in follow-up surveys.
One of the main reasons people of all types have relationships with companion animals is emotion, so it could be that interacting with any kind of suitable animal increases emotional awareness.
Equine-assisted therapy has been thought for some time to have
benefits for creating more emotional awareness. The Horses and Humans Research Foundation sponsors research studies on the potential healing effects of human-horse interactions.
One area they are investigating is the Caisson Platoon Equine Assisted Program, which serves the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center. This collaboration is examining Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) in veterans and the effect equine-assisted therapy can have for them.