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Studies show stroking and petting companion animals helps mitigate signs of stress, depression, pain and anxiety in humans. People with trauma frequently are drawn to animal-assisted interactions as part of their health and recovery process, providing opportunities to experience safe touch and connection with another being. However, little is known about the effects of these hands-on programs on the welfare of the therapy animals. Researchers will recruit volunteers to participate in animal-assisted interactions with horses. These sessions will involve approaching and touching horses or being approached and touched by horses. The team will collect data on behavioral and physiological responses, including heart rate monitoring, in both horses and humans. Findings will be used to inform best practices when working with horses and raise awareness of the horse’s perspective in human-horse interactions. Horses deliver subtle messages through their body language and educating those who work with horses will not only improve the welfare of horses but also enhance the working relationship between horse and human, including in animal-assisted interaction programs.

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University of Guelph
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Katrina Merkies, PhD
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