A survey of horse selection, longevity, and retirement in equine-assisted services in the United States

Ellen M. Rankins, Carissa L. Wickens, Kenneth H. McKeever, Karyn Malinowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Little published information exists on the horses in equine-assisted services (EAS), par-ticularly their selection, longevity, and retirement. The purpose of this study was to characterize horses and procedures used in EAS. A pilot survey was developed using focus group discussions and distributed to Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, International (PATH Intl) centers in Florida (n = 45, Part I) before further modification and distribution to members of PATH Intl., American Hippotherapy Association (AHA), eagala, and Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA) (n = 26,000, Part II). Response rates were 36% (Part I) and 0.7% (Part II). Centers report a median of 10 (Part I) or 9 (Part II) horses and ponies. Selection procedures included initial screening (Part I = 100%, Part II = 96%), pre-purchase or pre-donation exam (I = 64%, II = 60%), acclimation period (I = 100%, II = 84%), trial period (I = 91%, II = 90%), and other (II = 11%). Horses remained active in programs for less than a year to over 20 years with the greatest number working 7–10 (Part I) or 1–6 (Part II) yr. In Part I of the study, behavior (44%) was the leading cause of retirement followed by unsoundness (33%). In Part II, unsoundness was the highest ranked response followed by behavior. Behavior, soundness, and health emerged as key factors in horse selection and retirement. Future work should focus on investigating these issues at an individual horse level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2333
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • veterinary(all)


  • Behavior
  • EAAT
  • EAS
  • Horse
  • Therapeutic riding


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