Equine-Assisted Therapy Staff and Volunteers Needed for Facility Air Quality Survey
Microenvironments within equine facilities feature many sources of air contaminants that can harm horses and humans alike. University of Kentucky College of Public Health faculty member and longtime equestrian Kimberly I. Tumlin, PhD, MS, MPH, wondered if the risks associated with air contaminants could alter the benefits of equine-assisted activities/therapies (EAA/T). People use EAA/T to improve their physical, cognitive, or emotional health through intentional interactions with horses.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health-funded University of Cincinnati Education and Research Center has awarded Tumlin a pilot research grant to examine this important topic.

Air contaminants vary on horse farms, and exposures are a universal challenge. To establish a baseline understanding of work practices and potential exposures, Tumlin is recruiting EAA/T center directors and volunteer coordinators to complete an Equine Assisted Activities/Therapies Volunteer Worker Survey. This survey builds on 2018 research done by Staci McGill, a UK doctoral student in Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, on indoor arenas. Based on the diversity and location of their services, some EAA/T facilities rely on indoor or covered facilities. Previous research by McGill identified dust as a concern in 85% of horse indoor arenas.

“This research is the first step in developing understanding of the balance between risks and benefits of the horse-human interaction,” Tumlin said.

EAA/T programs’ success relies on volunteer workers who outnumber traditional employees sixfold. The value of these work hours equals more than $4.5 billion, according to the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.). In EAA/T, the horse-human interaction might include three volunteers with each horse, plus instruction staff, potentially increasing arena dust. However, researchers haven’t established contaminant exposures specific to these volunteer workers.

An assistant professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine and Environmental Health, Tumlin conducts her research through a One Health lens that examines the connections between human, animal, and environmental health. In this innovative study, Tumlin partners with Purdue University exposure health scientist Sa Liu, PhD, MPH, and aerosol scientist Jae Park, PhD. Together they are measuring air pollution exposures among volunteer workers who interact with horses. Under the mentorship of Epidemiology Department Chair Erin Hayes, DrPH, MPH, the team is also looking at potential exposures to heavy metals such as lead, iron, and manganese.

Kimberly I. Tumlin, PhD, MS, MPH, Assistant Professor, Preventive Medicine and Environmental Health, College of Public Health, and Athletic Training and Clinical Nutrition, College of Health Sciences, provided this information.

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More information on Gluck Equine Research Center and UK Ag Equine Programs.