The Positive Benefits of Horses & Other Animals

  • Positive interactions between humans and non-human mammals (such as dogs, cats or horses) can lead to an increase in oxytocin and a corresponding decrease in cortisol (Odendaal, 2000; Barker et al, 2005; Handlin et al,2011). Especially true in children with autism whose cortisol levels upon waking are reduced by up to 60% in the presence of a dog (Viau et al, 2010).
  • Children who participated in a 12 week riding program had significantly lower stress hormone levels than a waitlist control (Pendry, 2014).
  • Equine Assisted therapy leads to greater functionality in children with autism, especially in regards to their expressive language and social skills (Bass et al, 2009; Gabriel’s et al, 2012).
  • The presence of a dog leads to increased attention, social interaction and language. This is a direct result of activation of the oxytocin system (Beetz & UvnA, 2012).
  • In the first ever large-scale randomized controlled trial therapeutic horseback riding was found to be of benefit to children with an ASD (Gabriels et al, 2015)
  • The horse’s rhythmic stride may have a calming effect with its vestibular-cerebellar stimulation which studies show can lead to an improvement in hyperactivity (Arnold et al, 1985).  


  • Barker, S. B., Knisely, J. S., McCain, N. L., & Best, A. M. (2005). Measuring stress and immune responses in health care professionals following interaction with a therapy dog: a pilot study. Psychological Reports, 96, 713–729.
  • Bass, M., Duchowny, C., & Liabre, M.
  • Beetz, A., & UvnĂ, K. (2012). Psychosocial and psychophysiological effects of human-animal interactions: the possible role of oxytocin. Frontiers in psychology, 3.
  • Gabriels,  R.L. Agnew, J.A¸& Holt,  K.D.  et al.
  • Handlin, L., Hydbring-Sandberg, E., Nilsson, A., Ejdebäck, M., Jansson, A., & Uvnäs-Moberg, K. (2011). Short-term interaction between dogs and their owners – effects on oxytocin, cortisol, insulin and heart rate – an exploratory study. Anthrozoos, 24, 301–316.
  • Odendaal, J. S. J. (2000). Assisted-animal therapy: Magic or medicine? Journal of Psychodynamic Research, 49, 275 -280.
  • Pendry, P., Smith, A. N., & Roeter, S. M. (2014). Randomized Trial Examines Effects of Equine Facilitated Learning on Adolescents’ Basal Cortisol Levels. Human and Animal Interaction Bulletin, 2 (1), 80-95.
  • Viau, R., Arsenault-Lapierre, G., Fecteau, S., Champagne, N., Walker, C.-D., & Lupien, S. (2010). Effect of service dogs on salivary cortisol secretion in autistic children. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 35 (8), 1187.
  • Gabriels, R. L., Pan, Z., Dechant, B., Agnew, J. A., Brim, N., & Mesibov, G. (2015). Randomized controlled trial of therapeutic horseback riding in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 54(7), 541-549.
  • Arnold, L. E., Clark, D. L., Sachs, L. A., Jakim, S., & Smithies, C. (1985). Vestibular and visual rotational stimulation as treatment for attention deficit and hyperactivity. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 39(2), 84-91.


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