Researchers Find Working With Horses Increases Emotional Intelligence in Humans

Source: University of Kentucky

“When nurses and doctors benefit from collaborating with horses then ultimately their patients also benefit.”
Peaceful Moment by Terry FitchResearchers in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture recently completed one of the first studies to explore how working with horses can develop emotional intelligence in humans. UK Center for Leadership Development researchers, Patricia Dyk and Lissa Pohl, collaborated with UK HealthCare nurse researchers, Carol Noriega, Janine Lindgreen and Robyn Cheung on the two-year study, titled “The Effectiveness of Equine Guided Leadership Education to Develop Emotional Intelligence in Expert Nurses.”
“With Lexington being known as the Horse Capital of the World, it is only fitting that the University of Kentucky is conducting pioneering research in the emerging field of equine assisted learning,” said Patricia Dyk, director of the Center for Leadership Development.

The project included a control group of 10 nurses from the Neuroscience Surgery Service Line and an intervention group consisting of 11 nurses from the Trauma and Acute Care Surgical Service Line at UK Chandler Hospital. At the start of the study and again six months later, both groups took the online assessment appraising emotional intelligence. Nurses in the intervention group participated in a one-day workshop that involved experiential learning with horses.

“Each exercise in the workshop was designed to develop the four emotional intelligence competency areas of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management,” said Lissa Pohl, research project manager and workshop facilitator.
Nurses from the intervention group filled out qualitative surveys immediately after their experience with the horses and again three months after the workshop.

The before and after survey results showed there was an increase in the scores of the intervention group in all four competency areas when compared to the control group. The researchers admitted, though, that the small number of participants in the study makes it difficult to conclude that working with the horses was the cause of the intervention group’s increase.

Marie-Claude Stockl was the co-facilitator for the workshop with the nurses. She owns the Horse Institute, and as such, facilitates equine-assisted learning workshops for corporate groups in central New York state.

“We are thrilled to get this research completed, because it builds the credibility of all organizations offering this type of learning experience,” she said.

According to Pohl, the initial results are encouraging and they lay the groundwork for subsequent studies of larger and more diverse populations of nurses.

“If horses can increase our ability to understand ourselves and others better, then the healthcare industry is a perfect place for studies like these,” she said. “When nurses and doctors benefit from collaborating with horses then ultimately their patients also benefit.”

46 comments

  1. If anyone has ever been around horses one KNOWS how they can effect your over all emotions… Good and Bad, they bring out emotions and truth you did not even know you had… It is a joy and honor to be able to have their trust and companionship that you have earned from them, they know by instinct so very much more on so many levels than we do as human’s, we can learn SO VERY MUCH from them. Thank God I have had that experience and treasure it every day…… 🙂

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    • I am living in Co Donegal, Ireland. I was made redundant in 2009, at the same time I rescued 6 horses from starvation in the county of Kilkenny. I drove 7 hours none stop because I thought they might die or injure themselves on the journey if I stopped. That was then and this is now. The plight of the Irish horse since 2007 has been horrendous. The beautiful well bred horses that was once the nations finest were subjected to neglect beyond believe by the recession. Thankfully I have hand fed the worst back to health and found good homes for two of them so far but the story continues as the meat factories are the only outlet for most of them. I will not let them go …so I’m opening a ranch style experience here in Donegal as I have travelled the US and Canada extensively and hope that I can let visitors ride my horses and appreciate them the way I do. Tell all your friends if they come to Ireland to support the rescue horses and live the western dream here in the hills of Donegal and ride the pride of Ireland with me….the “Irish Horse” my heart goes out to all those who support our cause to help the horse and the people that helped in Oklahoma after the awful trauma they went through.. god bless you all…Heidi in Co Donegal Ireland

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      • Hats off to you Heidi in your rescues………..I have alot of respect for you and your amazing journey and efforts to save them…………. If I lived closer I would stop by and see your rescues and meet you…………….

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      • I have a friend traveling to Ireland this month, June. Do you have a webpage? What is the name of your facility?

        For the horses!

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      • I visited Ireland 2 years ago (from Canada where I ride quarter horses) My incredible ride on the beach near Dingle on a gentle Irish Cobb horse will always be a special memory of Ireland. All of Ireland was amazing but that ride, the horse and wonderful girl who was my guide will always stay close to my heart.

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      • Here is hoping that your generous heart and caring hand are received with open arms and giving volunteers! My you Thrive and help them to Survive! Many, many blessings to you and yours.

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      • Dear Heidi, Thank You for Loving and caring for horses !!!! It is people like you that really Matter and made a measured difference !!!!! !!!!!! God Bless you Heidi !!!!!!

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  2. I can not agree with that research. I do agree that loving and caring for horses builds you up inside and gives you a sense of fulfillment and purpose, but, simple working with horses doesn’t. I know too many idiots who claim to work with horses yet still support, doggedly, horse slaughter as a humane method of ending a faithful partner. I personally have uncles who are or were cowboys and remained bull headed, selfish and uncaring all their lives. You have to want to learn from a horse and you must show respect before they will teach you anything, Grasshopper. Good article though. It’s a start.

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    • I disagree with you Tawny,…it’s those people who are closed up, evil and nothing can help them..
      they do no benefit and are a lost cause….Insanity and Perversity exists in our society……
      .
      But many people can be helped and use the healing from horses can benefit………..

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      • When there is a human disaster … who do they send to pick up the pieces?????????? The Horses, we think nothing of using them, but only we try to repay them for their Love , trust and courage………….. I believe that the horses have touched and repair many lifes …………..Where is the Honor from them all ??????????In the Horses time of need??????????????? Just Asking !!!!

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      • Arlene so many of us do get the honor of our horses……..but when were talking about the
        BLM, our government officials and our American Society is into Narcissism….Greed, Perversity,..Corruption….they are not concerned about anything else……………

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    • Interesting comment. I would say that a lot of these nurses already possess a higher degree of emotional intelligence than say a proslaughter horse person or someone associated with the money end of horses such as those AQHA type people. I’d probably even go so far to say that many nurses are far more emotionally intelligent than doctors. But if horses can help those nurses become even better healthcare providers I think it is well worth it. Perhaps others will follow suit – especially proslaughter veterinarians.

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    • I think its a point to note that the occupation of the research subjects were nurses, an occupation that would attract an emotionally connected human to begin with. I concur with your observations of horse people that still support horse slaughter as a humane ending to an equines life. Just a staggering sum of ignorance on the subject.

      Like you said though, the article is interesting and if it spurs interest in emotional investment then great.

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  3. Excellent article and studies….Thank you University of Kentucky………I’ve been saying all along they have so much to teach us and we have so much to learn by just connecting to them…

    Horses changed my entire view of things in life, what was important before changed after owning an incredible gelding who taught me alot about myself and having them in your life.

    This article proves so much about their existence with us humans and what they offer as “Gracious Majestic beings”.

    They are “Healers” of the mind, body and soul.

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  4. Personally I think anyone who has ever owned a horse (or 3) and/or works with them on a daily basis has known this to be true for sometime. Working with an animal of such size and strength, albeit gentle, requires patience, kindness, and communication skills beyond the spoken word.

    I’m not sure why they spent the money for this study when all they had to do was visit a training facility there in Kentucky. Spend a few days with a competent horse trainer. It will make you a better person all around.

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  5. How much the Horses give and continue to give , they are a pillar of information , and so many wonderful gifts they have to give, I cannot believe that everyone does does see them for what they are , Doctors who use no phony pills , only the info to help yourself, i have seen them with Children who have challenges ,no Doctor can even begin to address…….They have saved us many times , they are the embodiment of Freedom, So much so they reek it , it pours out of them daily……………I could go on for hours about the Horses but I know I am Preaching to the Choir !!!! How can anyone do anything but Love them and care for them ????????????????????? I myself owe to the horses everything And am enjoying every moment spent with them !!!!!! Just to look at them puts a huge smile in my soul !!!!!!

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  6. Working with horses also develops people physically. I don’t know many horse owners who have a gym membership. Horses are “the total package”!

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  7. There is something so very special about horses that no other living being has. Their innate sense and understanding gives a person an over-whelming feeling of purity and truth. They are a mirror-image of ourselves. There is nothing so humbling as having such a powerful, sensitive, and intelligent being allow you to ride upon their back and want to share their life with you. Their forgiveness and loyalty speak volumes about their nature. They are God’s true gifts to humankind and the world.

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  8. horses are awesome, love them very much and enjoyed them when I had them. dont anymore, by the way horses are wonderful but I do not attribute human emotions to them we have a tendency to humanize animals, (guilty myself) of htinking they act a certain way because they understand our feelings or have compassion or like being around us, that sorta thing, the reality is horses are dependant on you, act like a horse and do not grasp love or even trust in the full sense of the word, they obey you because you train them and care for htem, but given their druthers they would rather ly around in the pasture and run free and not have to be ridden if given a chance to say no, even if they even had the abilty to do so.they learn from pressure and release a certan pressure gets released when they do such and such, horses like to be secure and comfortable, who doesn’t? they recognize who feeds them grooms them and basically gives them a sense of comfortableness. my horse lady tolerated me simply because I fed and cared for her, given a chance she would just as much not be bothered. all the horses I handled and a few I owned were like that. but I still feel they are very beautiful creatures and caring for them is good for you.

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    • I don’t think this article implied to humanize the horse. They offer what only some people can get or grasp from them and benefit…

      There are plenty of people who have horses and may never have felt a connection or a special horse teach them anything…..which means not open to learn,or available to understand….

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  9. Anyone who has taken a course in animal telepathy from a good animal telepathist or has observed or learned from Parelli or just opened their mind and heart to horses knows that horses have personalities, emotions, and fears just like humans or even more so.

    There are all types of horses and horse’s emotions. Some are dominant and aggressive, some peaceful, some lazy, some stubborn, some sweet, or spirited, unconfident, and most loving. Horses are as variable in personality as people or dogs or cats or wolves are. We are all born onto this planet under the influence of the universe and we are all individual and different.

    I cannot fathom being around horses for any period of time and not having our emotions escalated if by nothing more than just watching them.

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      • Yea !!! They are as individual as people , with emotions to match !!!!!!So many mirror images as us……..it only takes a little understanding to absolutely see this is true , studies like this will always prove this to be !!!!!! I have seen this and felt this with every visit with them, i am not a very perceptive person, but when I am with the Horses , i can perceive them so clearly ????

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  10. I saved a Horse from Slaughter last year,~I live in an Apt in NYC. I really couldnt believe that this Beautiful,~ Starving- 2 year old T/B, who was bred for speed alone, was going to be killed ,
    Why ?
    ~ Because he didnt fit with the Racing Program ?
    . I lost my beloved Dog of 14 1/2 years, ~ then my Mother,~ needless to say, I was very depressed, and didnt want to go anywhere , see anyone , or do anything
    . My horse 7even, ~ saved my life ~ as I had little spirit nor soul left .
    I drove 300 miles round trip every other weekend , as [he was in NJ ] and had to negotiate the cruelest of people and ~~The Holland Tunnel ~. For those of you who are not from the NE its the equivalent of HELL.
    I am Transformed ~~ Horses have once again, changed my life as they did, when I was a 14 year old Wrangler at a Stable in White Lake NY called Pine creek
    My lead Horse ~ Mr Brown has been an inspiration to me till today ~
    7even made me realize ~~
    To Love and be with Horses ~~Is one of G-ds
    ~~GREATEST GIFTS !
    One cannot describe the ~~Transformation and ~ Tranquility it supplies to
    ~~ONES ~~ ENTIRE BEING ❤

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  11. I have always said that my horses are my therapy! If not for my two horses, i wouldnt have been able to deal with the death of my parents from old age. They were an outlet for my emotions that i didnt have with any human. Just knowing that i would hear that friendly nicker every morning, gave me a reason for looking forward to starting each day! Just being able to care for them with barn cleaning chores, feeding and riding kept me busy and kept my grief from swallowing me up in misery. When i am upset, my mare comes over to me and rests her head on my shoulder and nuzzles me as if to say, its ok, im here for you! Both of my horses give me such a wonderful outlet for my emotions and by doing so, i became much stronger emotionally. I owe so much to them!

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  12. I am a RN with a Masters degree in Human & Organizational Development. 12+ years ago one of the classes I took in my advanced degree program was called “Emotional Intellegence.” It was rather new back then, but very profound & helped me understand my own “blind spots” that I needed to work on. Seeing this research & knowing what I know about how Emotional Intellegence, this could easily be the beginning of something HUGE!! First, we all know these lovely animals have God given powers to do amazing things, including change the human spirit. Pair that with any profession that is responsible for healing wounded bodies & minds & it’s a win-win! Sure, as nurses, we should already be “perfect” at that role, but how many times has a nurse made a situation more difficult than it had to be? I’ve seen it with my own eyes (and had more than a couple verbal confrontations calling a peer to task before they realized I was also a RN). As nurses, there has never been a tougher time in our profession with the political issues, shortage of staff, acuity of patients (sicker), & high turnover in the profession.

    I would be willing to expand on this research & even broaden it into other professions with anyone who is willing to partner with me. This could be amazing & bring forward corporate sponsors to save the horses while saving their workforce!! If we decrease turnover ($$$) & can prove it, we’ll have as many big sponsors as we need.

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  13. Thank you for your comments re my rescue horses here in Donegal, Ireland. When I signed up to follow these posts I realised the plight of the horse is global. You guys in the US & Canada are experiencing the same desperate situation. Equine therapy is only quite new to us here in Ireland, the Monty Roberts join up experience was really the first introduction to alternative communication with horses. I have watched the behaviour of my own horses and just recently seen with my own eyes the amazing effect that horse therapy has with children with autism and Asperger syndrome. A 12 year old child that was not communicating at all has a new lease of life through the workshop that is now running just miles from my house. The school has said it was amazing the difference in the child and whatever the parents were doing now with the child keep doing it. Society has lead us into a world where money, stressful jobs and relationship breakdowns have removed our sense of inner self and purpose that we have lost our way in what really matters. The horse provides insight into connecting us with the missing link that can re ignite our senses that empower us back into taking charge of our lives again.
    In all my experiences in life, the most recent finishing my degree at 43. My personal achievement was to rescue those six horses no piece of paper or money can buy what I knew in my heart was right even thou money was tight on the farm. The land is not ours, it is borrowed from the animals that reside on it and we sure go back into the ground ourselves and cant take any of it with us. I saw the pain in their eyes and know why my big black mare that dominated the pack became aggressive. She has taken 3 years to finally come round to know I will not abandon her and not forget to feed her and she roams free everyday. We are supposedly an intelligent being yet we still have a lot to learn from the mother earth and those animals that live on it. The horse has carried us into wars, ploughed our fields, made travel possible and surely we must give back to those that serve us so well.
    Please feel free to tell your friend Sue to look me up I’m only just working on my website barnviewranch.com but my email is hjwoods1@eircom.net and it is on facebook as well attached to my page Heidi Woods Ballybofey, Co Donegal Ireland. I would love to take them round so that they can come back to you guys and find out what your dream holiday would be like in Ireland and I will help create it. My new purpose in life seems to be adding value to share it, it means more than the corporate job any day…. Take care all.. I’m eager to learn more since reading the research keep it coming.

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    • Heidi you really hit the nail on the head about how so many people have lost their way in life due to stressful jobs, money, relationship breakdowns…..It is the amazing connection to horses that
      can offer the ability to find another part of yourself that is beyond words….
      The ability to live slower, more at peace and finding happiness inside yourself that you cannot buy anywhere……Horses hold the key to a spiritual journey for those who dare to go there…………………….Talk about being empowered!!!!!

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  14. Heidi,

    You are right. The situation is global. In the U. S. this is directly related to President Clinton’s decision to sign the 1992 Convention for Biological Diversity and this President’s advancing the career of an anti-wild horse and burro scientist still shutting down the science that disagrees with his ludicrous non-evidence based theory that the horse is a non-native, invasive, feral, exotic, pest, alien species that tramples native plants and disturbs the dirt. Only an idiot could come up with something this unnatural.

    The U. S. never voted on this treaty, but since President Clinton signed it, he and Vice-President Al Gore began implementing it through federal agencies. Essentially, we have an international treaty never ratified by our Senate usurping U.S. law, particularly land management and environmental policy. This is not “soft” law.

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    • How are they dealing with Monsanto? I know their impact on biodiversity has been discussed at every meeting since they developed and patented GMOs, but I don’t think anything has ever been done about it.

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