Working with horses reduces stress hormones in young people

Patricia Pendry

Horses working with humans in therapy is gaining ground over the past decade. Anyone of any age can benefit from being around horses – they have such a calming effect. Add the exercise of riding, and its a win – win. Of course, be sure to get proper training before jumping on a horse or undertaking the responsibility of ownership. ~ HfH

From: Oregon Live
Bu: Katy Muldoon

Patricia Pendry

The National Institutes of Health supported Patricia Pendry’s study on young people, horses and the stress hormone, cortisol. (Kate Wilhite/Washington State University)

Patricia Pendry doesn’t know if it’s the feel of a horse’s soft hair beneath a child’s hand, the collaboration required for a teen to gain horsemanship skills or something else altogether. She does, however, know one thing: Stress levels are lower in adolescents who work with horses than in those who don’t.

In a randomly controlled study involving 130 students age 10 to 15, Pendry, a Washington State University developmental psychologist, found that 5th graders through 8th graders who participated in a series of weekly 90-minute equine learning sessions had lower cortisol levels than children who were wait-listed for the program, the control group. Cortisol is the hormone released in response to stress.

Her research was published this month in the Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Psychological Association. It was funded by a $100,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health, which asked researchers to look into the affects of human-animal interaction on child development.

For years, Pendry says, scientists have known about conditions that seem to influence stress, but far less is understood about what interventions work best to keep it in under control or improve responses to it.

Controlling stress during the teen years is important. Not only is it a critical time for brain development but high stress during adolescence also has been linked to mental-health and behavioral problems.

When Pendry learned about the grant opportunity, she approached PATH to Success, an equine-assisted learning program operated through WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine. It already ran a small equine learning program designed to improve children’s well-being and their ability to respond to common stressors.

With help from PATH director Sue Jacobson and Phyllis Erdman of WSU’s College of Education, Pendry designed a bigger program, involving many more young people, plus a control group. It delivered students from school to the barn once a week for 12 weeks over two years.

AUTHOR: Amber Barnes
1 Comment
  • Valerie Wehmueller

    I agree! My teen daughter has been volunteering at our local Equine Assisted Therapy facility for the past 3 summers. She loves horses & kids, & is wonderful with both the horses & the disabled kids. She also has been riding horses since she was 4 years old, & now has her own horse, her best friend in the world, that she loves, trains & shows. She is also planning on becoming a certified therapeutic riding instructor through PATH International when she turns 18 & graduates from high school next year!

    May 16, 2014