Leslie LaFleur is a 2015 graduate of the PsyD Program in Clinical Psychology at Antioch University, Seattle.

Dissertation Committee:

  • William Heusler, Psy.D., Committee Chairperson
  • Susan Demattos, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Mark Russell, Ph.D., Committee Member


military veterans, therapeutic horse activities, therapeutic horseback riding, case study, qualitative, animal assisted therapy, posttraumatic stress disorder, PTSD, traumatic brain injury, TBI, amputees, amputation

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Statistics reveal that over 353,000 military members have been diagnosed with PTSD and/or TBI resulting from war-related activities. With the rising number of war stress injuries, there have not been enough psychotherapeutic services to meet the current demand for the care of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Although some intervention strategies have been deemed successful, the current standards of care (e.g., exposure therapy, cognitive therapy) are limited by training inadequacies, accessibility, and outcomes (e.g., retention, early drop out, resistance, non-responsiveness). Furthermore, it is unclear whether these treatments are efficacious in addressing the unique symptom presentations of this population. The unavailability of services and their tendency to inadequately address the needs of veterans has opened the door to the development of alternative and complementary approaches. One such new approach was the therapeutic use of animals, specifically horses, as a treatment option for returning military members. Preliminary studies of therapeutic horse activities, while methodologically flawed, suggest clinical benefits for veterans. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to describe the activity and unique experience of THR as an intervention used with military veterans struggling with war stress injuries. The perspectives of nine veterans, equine instructors, and volunteers were collected through in-depth interviews, observations, and audio/visual material. Through phenomenological analysis, a comprehensive understanding of THR, what it involves, what happens to the veterans as they relate to the horse and interact with it, and how this intervention impacts the veterans’ recovery process was garnered. Four primary themes were identified: community support, relationship, transferable skills, and motivation. The data from this study reflected clinically significant results, suggesting THR was efficacious for veterans and their recovery process, especially for those who did not respond well to traditional treatments. It is recommended that future research efforts be conducted to support the development of standardized curriculum, therapeutic practice, and assessment measures in order to refine THR and allow insurance panels, stakeholders, and providers to fund, resource, integrate, and recommend THR; increasing its accessibility for members of the military with war stress injuries. The electronic version of this dissertation is at OhioLink ETD Center,


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