Breast cancer treatments often negatively impact upper extremity function and the overall perceived quality of an individual’s life. A 2014 pilot study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine evaluated the physiologic and psychological effects of an equine-assisted therapy protocol in breast cancer survivors. This study consisted of 20 breast cancer survivors who participated in a 16-week equine assisted therapy protocol consisting of 2 hours/sessions of activity per week. All patients were tested before and after the intervention for maximal oxygen consumption, fat mass percentage, total body water percentage, strength of principal muscular groups and quality of life. The therapeutic riding setting included the patient, the horse and the therapist specialized in equestrian rehabilitation. Each riding session consisted of three phases: 1) warm up, horse caring, and grooming, 2) riding, 3) unsaddling and grooming activity. Sessions 1–3 were required to establish the human–horse relationship and to gain a deeper understanding of basic horse management and behavior. Sessions 4–8 provided patients with riding basic elements: mounting and dismounting; position and control on the horse with exercises that help participants to create balance and correct postural lines necessary for mounted work. Sessions 9–20 allowed patients to consolidate the acquired position ability and horse control at walk while sessions 21–32 were structured to improve the ability of autonomous horse management during higher level tasks and with the horse moving at a faster pace. After intervention, the intervention group showed an improvement in oxygen consumption, a decrease in fat mass percentage, and an increase in strength as well as an improved quality of life as measured by the FACIT-F. These results demonstrate the positive effects of equine assisted therapy on both physiological and psychological factors and suggest a new method for rehabilitation intervention strategies after cancer in a nonmedical environment.

Cerulli, C., Minganti, C., Santis, C. D., Tranchita, E., Quaranta, F., & Parisi, A. (2014). Therapeutic Horseback Riding in Breast Cancer Survivors: A Pilot Study. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 20(8), 623–629. doi: 10.1089/acm.2014.0061