Study shows that horse riding can improve autism and hyperactivity symptoms in children
A recent study conducted by The University of Edinburgh has demonstrated that horse riding can help to reduce the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and reduce hyperactivity in children that diagnosed with ASD. The study involved a group of 26 children, 22 boys and 4 girls, that had been recruited from British schools that specialise in the treatment of ASD. The reason that this group is somewhat male-heavy is that autism is far more commonly diagnosed in boys rather than girls, so more boys were available for recruitment for the study. The children were all aged between 6 and 9 and were all described as having severe ASD and being “mainly nonverbal”, which means that they struggle to or are unwilling to communicate using speech.
These children were all either assigned to a riding group, or a control group (a group that did not ride, so that researchers could test them as well and see if improvements made by the riding group were really a result of the horse riding, or could maybe have been a coincidence). The riding group engaged in 45 minutes of riding each week for between 5 and 7 weeks. Two of the children from the riding group decided not to ride, but still spent time either close to the horses, or leading their horse around the arena.
The results of the study showed that there was a “significant reduction in the severity of ASD symptoms and hyperactivity from pre-to post-test for the intervention group only” (as reported by Adroulla Harris and Joanne Williams in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health ). Remarkably, even children that chose not to ride their horse, but just spent time stroking the horses or leading them on the rein, showed equal improvements to the riders.
The results of this study are not conclusive, as in order to prove something to be a viable treatment within medicine, it must be tested time and time again, and using much larger sample groups than the one in this study, however the results are extremely positive and exciting in numerous ways! This study showed that improvements of ASD symptoms and hyperactivity can be improved in just 5 to 7 weeks, which is much faster than has been achieved by similar studies involving children with autism and other animals. This not only means that horse riding could save the NHS countless millions of pounds in the treatment of children with autism, as it could offer a more timely, cost effective treatment than treatments that are currently available, but it also suggests that there may be something special about the interaction of humans and horses: Time spent bonding with and riding horses has shown to be far more effective in improving social functioning than studies that used our other 4 legged friends.
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