A recent study by Gibbons, Cunningham, Paiz, Poelker, & Montufar Cardenas sought to address endemic domestic violence in the Guatemalan community through an equine-assisted therapy program that taught Monty Rogers Join-Up® techniques and non-violent training methods to adults and youth who worked regularly with equines. The authors note a lack of culturally sensitive therapeutic interventions in low- and middle-income areas like Guatemala (38), but point out that research had shown that sport and movement therapy has proved to be a culturally accessible means through which Guatemalan women who have suffered domestic abuse may improve their self-image and world-view, while equine-assisted therapy has proven to be useful in treating all manner of behavioral and emotion disorders elsewhere.
This study focused on a rural community in which horses are an invaluable part of community life. The goal was to improve emotional regulation, leading to a decreased endorsement of violence by participants (16 men, 2 women) both toward their horses and their family members. The study consisted of a participant group that engaged directly in the activities and a focus group comprised of family members of the participants who were used to gauge change in the participant group.
Participants interacted both with their own horses and with horses provided by the program. They used the program horses to learn techniques for the first three weeks of the four-week program. The third week they worked with their own horses. Participants’ horses were evaluated for fear or aggressive responses by strangers at the beginning of the program. Participants and their horses were also observed in a pre-test and post-test interview that was videotaped and evaluated by two equine experts for aggressive and fear response of the animals.
The participants and focus-group members were also interviewed both before and after the program, collecting information about participants’ attitudes of violence towards horses, children, and spouses and their use of the threat of violence to solicit desired behaviors from all three.
The study showed a change in participants’ attitudes of violence. In the pre-test, most participants believed that physical coercion and punishment was an appropriate way to treat children and wives, while the post-test average was rejection of such beliefs. There was also an approximately 16 percent decrease in the number of participants who believed physical punishment would make a child a stronger, more responsible adult. Overall participants were found to be have adopted a more responsible and caring attitude towards their horses and others.