An Investigation Into the Place of Horseback Riding in Adolescent Development

Elizabeth Klish (2009)

This project was a phenomenological investigation of adolescent girls' experiences of riding horses, their relationship with the barn community, and its connection to their development. The barn community was understood to be a type of facilitating environment (Winnicott, 1986) that included the owner and trainer of the farm, as well as other children, adolescents and adults who regularly participated in riding lessons at the farm, and the horses themselves. Horseback riding has been found to be therapeutic for several different populations (Bizub, Joy, & Davidson, 2003; Burgeon, 2003; Cawley, Cawley, & Retter, 1994; Emory, 1992; Greenwald, 2001; Terpin, 2004; Tyler, 1994). However, none of these studies investigated the impact of riding on a normative population. This study lies at the intersection of that which is known about adolescent girls' development and the therapeutic benefits of horses. The study was conducted at a private horse farm in southern New England and sought to gain understanding of the phenomenon of horseback riding and its relationship to girls' adolescent development through semi-structured interviews. Four thematic areas related to the girls' perception of their experience were examined. These included: relationship with self, relationship with the barn community, relationship with the horse, and relationship with the trainer. Within each of these major themes, several organic sub-themes emerged. Examples of the sub-themes included: identity, inclusion in the barn community, affectionate connection with the horse, and a mentoring relationship with the trainer.