The movement of the horse stimulates the cerebellum which has been linked to both language and attention (Bass et al, 2009; Wolf et al, 2009).
Close body contact stimulates the release of oxytocin which is linked to decreased levels of stress and anxiety. Both are essential to learning (Holt-Lunstad, 2008)
Children with autism experience activation of the amygdala when forced to maintain eye contact (Kleinhans et al, 2010).
Bass. M.M., Duchowny, C.A., & Llabre, M.M. (2009). The effect of therapeutic horseback riding on social functioning in children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39, 1261-1267.
Holt-Lunstad, J., Birmingham, W. A. , & Light, K.C. (2008). The Influence of a ‘Warm Touch’ Support Enhancement Intervention Among Married Couples on Ambulatory Blood Pressure, Oxytocin, Alpha Amylase and Cortisol. Psychosomatic Medicine, 70, 976–985.
Kleinhans, N. M., Richards, T., Weaver, K., Johnson, L., Greenson, J., Dawson, G., & Aylward, E. (2010). Association between amygdala response to emotional faces and social anxiety in autism spectrum disorders. Neuropsychologia, 48(12), 3665-3670.
Wolf, U., Rapoport, M.J., & Schweizer, T.A. (2009). Evaluating the affective component of the cerebellar cognitive affective syndrome. Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 21 (3), 245–53.