We horse folk understand the joy and peace of working around our equine partners. Therapeutic riding has been proven to help reduce stress in young adults (ages 14-25) with autism spectrum disorder, according to recent research funded by the Horses and Humans Research Foundation (HHRF).
Those with autism who are transitioning into adulthood face stress daily, and the symptoms of autism become barriers to health and wellness. There has been little previous research into this age group as it relates to therapeutic riding.
A research project headed by Betsy Kemeny, PhD, an assistant professor at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, determined that therapeutic riding could temporarily decrease the stress of young adults with autism. Cortisol levels (an indicator of stress in horses and humans) were statistically decreased in this young adult group involved with therapeutic riding compared to controls.
The project also looked at cortisol levels in the horses involved in therapy and found that horses did not have increased salivary cortisol following lessons (with the exception of the first trotting lesson).
Previous research has shown that therapeutic riding offers additional benefits to those with autism that stress management techniques cannot, including promoting proper posture, trunk balance and leg strength to improve posture and gait. Equine-assisted activities also provide sensory input, and research has shown that working with a horse (which is non-judgmental) can promote bonding and social connections in those with autism.
You can learn more about the Horses and Humans Research Foundation (HHRF) and support ongoing research by visiting HorsesandHumans.org. The mission of the Horses and Humans Research Foundation is to provide scientific research that explores the claimed—but as-yet scientifically unsubstantiated—benefits of equine-assisted activities and therapies.