This paper reports on a qualitative study, carried out in New Zealand, to explore the resources for psychological wellbeing that horses provide for some women. Research evidence in health privileges the pathogenic model. The therapeutic value of horses to humans has been reported in quantitative and quasi-experimental research, using correlation analysis or self-report inventories. There is a dearth of qualitative research, particularly from a feminist stance, into the potential salutogenic (origin of wellbeing) effect of horses for women. This ethnographic research was informed by the relational health theory and focus groups were used to investigate the “meaning of horses to the psychological wellbeing” for the women participants. Emergent themes were synthesised into the three growth promoting qualities: authenticity; mutual engagement; and empowerment. The significance of this study is that it extends the strength based relational health model to include two further growth promoting qualities, firstly, a social connection to other humans and secondly, a connection to the environment. The role of horses in healthy psychological development and self-identity was explored. A final section on the implications of this research follows a discussion of this potentially fecund research area, to determine the salutogenic impact and potential prophylactic effect of horses.
|Keywords:||Salutogenesis, Relational Health, Feminism, Wellness, Horse-human Relationship, Social Connection|
Lecturer in Psychology, School of Health, Charles Darwin University and Flinders University, Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia