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 5thgraders through 8thgraders 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....