Women, Horses and Others: A Salutogenic Approach

By Ruth Billany.

Published by The International Journal of Health, Wellness and Society

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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

The International Journal of Health, Wellness and Society, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp.53-64. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 299.182KB).

Ruth Billany

Lecturer in Psychology, School of Health, Charles Darwin University and Flinders University, Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia

Ruth Billany currently lectures in Behavioural Neuropsychology at Charles Darwin University in the Northern Territory (NT) of Australia. Ruth is also an adjunct lecturer for Flinders University, School of Medicine, lecturing in Health Psychology, as part of the inaugural NT Medical Program. In 2011 she received a prestigious national teaching award, the Australian Learning and Teaching Council Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning in Higher Education, for innovative and collaborative assessment in on-line learning. Her research interests derive from health, positive and eco-psychology and include the human animal–nonhuman animal relationship, particularly women–horse relationships. She privileges qualitative research examining relational health within a strength based paradigm and is a Committee Member, as Qualitative Social Science Researcher, on the Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC - EC00153) NT Department of Health and Menzies School of Health Research.