Undergraduate Honors Thesis Projects

Date of Award

Spring 2024

Document Type

Honors Paper

Degree Name

Business Administration and Management-BS


Equine Science


Steffanie Burk and Bennett Grooms

First Committee Member

Steffanie Burk

Second Committee Member

Bennett Grooms

Third Committee Member

Deborah Solomon


Equine, Stress, Relaxation, Cortisol, Behavior

Subject Categories

Higher Education


As equine-assisted therapies grow in popularity, it is important to consider the welfare of horses because they play an essential role in the therapeutic experience. The focus of our study was to evaluate stress in horses as well as human stress and anxiety within the context of equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) for clients with mild to moderate anxiety. Equine stress was quantified by salivary cortisol concentrations and count of observed equine stress and relaxation behaviors. We compared salivary cortisol, and stress and relaxation behaviors between horses that participated in EAP with a licensed mental health professional, equine specialist, and a client present, and a control session where the horse pair were in the same space without the presence of the therapy team or client. When comparing the EAP and control sessions, there were no significant differences in equine salivary cortisol concentration or number of equine stress or relaxation behaviors. Additionally, we quantified human/client stress and anxiety using salivary cortisol concentrations and the Subjective Units of Distress Scale (SUDS) before and immediately after the EAP session. There was no significant difference between client salivary cortisol concentration before and after the EAP session, but client SUDS ratings were significantly lower following the EAP session. There was no association between client and equine salivary cortisol concentration. Our findings indicate that incorporating horses in EAP sessions with a single client with mild to moderate anxiety was acceptable from a welfare standpoint, though it is recommended that future research focus on larger, more diverse sample sizes to get a wider view of the field.

Licensing Permission

Copyright, all rights reserved. Fair Use

Acknowledgement 1


Acknowledgement 2


__MohlerH_Thesis.pdf.accreport.html (7 kB)
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