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30 April 2014

Working with horses may ease stress in kids

Students who spent 12 weeks learning about horse behaviour, care, grooming, handling, riding and interaction had significantly lower stress levels than other students.

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Working with horses can lower children's levels of stress hormones, which may reduce their risk of physical and mental health problems, a new study suggests.

The study involved 130 students in grades 5 to 8 who took part in a 12-week learning programme at a riding facility in Washington state. The students spent 90 minutes a week learning about horse behaviour, care, grooming, handling, riding and interaction.

Saliva samples collected from the children showed that they had significantly lower hormone stress levels after they completed the programme, compared to students who did not take part in the programme.

The study was published in the journal Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin.

Controlling stress hormones

Learning more about controlling stress hormone levels in kids is important "because we know from other research that healthy stress hormone patterns may protect against the development of physical and mental health problems," study author Patricia Pendry, a developmental psychologist at Washington State University, said in a university news release.

While many believe that children's self-esteem, behaviour and social skills benefit from programmes that provide interaction with horses, dogs, cats and other animals, there has previously been little scientific proof to support those claims, according to the news release.

The new study was supported by a grant from the US National Institutes of Health.

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