Why evaluate outcomes? To further its mission to improve clients’ lives, High Horses Therapeutic Riding (TR) Program initiated an outcomes evaluation (OE) program to measure the efficacy of its services. An OE system will also support the organization’s commitment to continuous learning, demonstrate its willingness to take a leadership role in the TR field, and provide greater accountability to clients, community, and funders.
What were the evaluation requirements? In 2011, High Horses served 212 clients with diverse needs, abilities, and reasons for participating in TR. To accommodate, High Horses required client-specific achievement measures. The measures needed to be sensitive enough to capture changes that occur during short intervention periods. Yet, to determine overall program effectiveness, the measures also needed to allow aggregation. Though accredited as a PATH International Premier TR center, High Horses is a small nonprofit, and required a lowcost OE program that could be utilized and maintained by existing staff and volunteers. Nonetheless, to prepare to collaborate with other TR centers and potential partners on similar initiatives, High Horses also sought to build organizational capacity for scientifically credible research.
What method was used to measure client achievements? The existing literature on TR effectiveness offers little to guide TR centers in the selection and implementation of OE programs and methods for measuring individual client advancements. However, Goal Attainment Scaling (GAS)—an OE method widely employed in rehabilitation and mental health services—clearly offered potential for measuring clients’ achievements in a therapeutic riding setting. This method: Defines unique goals for each client Pre-specifies expected outcomes for each goal Accommodates weighting of goals to reflect goal importance and difficulty Generates overall program effectiveness scores Utilizes independent raters to score achievement on a 5-point scale after a predetermined intervention period, as follows: -2 is baseline performance before intervention -1 is improvement less than expected after intervention 0 is the expected improvement after intervention +1 is better than expected improvement +2 is much better than expected improvement
High Horses has steadily increased the number of riders and instructors that are using Goal Attainment Scaling (GAS) from our implementation in 2011 until today. Having a measurable scale where rider progress can be documented by impartial outsiders will give the industry a way to show observed indication of advancement for each rider. With the data that has been collected since 2012, which is over 1000 data points. We can definitively see that our riders are making progress.
Not only do the participants make progress, much of the goals carry over into daily life. For example, a goal of brushing a horse for 10 strokes has carried over to the participant now brushing their onw hair or teeth. Another example is learning to do what is called the half seat, or two-point position while riding. This is keeping your balance over the horse with a base of support that is formed from the lower limbs in contact with the saddle and horse, from the points of thigh, knees, legs and feet in the stirrups. Learning this has helped participants get stronger so that getting out of a chair or out of a car has become a much easier task. The data points that have been discovered are exciting as we can see that therapeutic riding does have a positive, visible, measurable impact on the riders that participate. Simply put, therapeutic riding DOES help clients who participate.