Chronicles of a Stable Owner are real-life stories about caring for horses and their people
Written by Dr. Gwen Donohoe, Owner/Manager at Sagehill Stables
Although many may think that owning a barn must mean I ride horses whenever I want, often the exact opposite is true. In fact, since starting a horse business, I have never ridden less. There are lots of excuses. The main one being "there is always too much too do", followed closely by, "I'm too tired after spending a day working at the barn, the last thing I want to do is spend more time at the barn."
However, now that I have a daughter, I am trying to make myself get out to the barn a couple times a week with her so that she can experience all the amazing benefits of horses that I experienced as a young girl. Even at only 21 months old, after a couple of 2 to 3 minute rides with Zip last week (that's about all the attention span she has right now!), I could already see a huge a difference in her core activation and wanting to talk more. Amazing!
Now, you could say this is just a coincidence and that at her age these are normal development stages. But I don't believe in coincidences, I'm all about science. So, I've refreshed and updated my list of research on the benefits of horse back riding to youth. The last few years I have really been focused on the research behind the mental health benefits of horses to people, that I forgot about the whole host of physical benefits they provide too, which are just as important to all of us.
I haven't found any research dealing with children under 2 yet, but I did find some great research regarding youth, including youth with Autism and ADHD. My favourite is the case study written by Dr. Temple Grandin about her own experiences as a child with Autism. Although her research and fame is more well known in the cattle industry for bringing in humane handling practices in feedlots and processing facilities, her experiences and observations all started with horses as a youth. She talks about the benefits that horses provided her which came not just from riding, but also from the barn atmosphere, chores and friendships made there as well. There is even a movie staring Claire Danes all about her life (available on Crave TV I believe).
Another study that had similar findings as Dr. Grandin is discussed in an article by Jasmine Root (2018). She talks about Dr. Ann Swinker's research that found that handling, riding, and caring for a horse or pony can develop a host of positive traits in a child, including responsibility, accountability, patience, level-headedness, empathy, kindness, and self-discipline.
Another study by N. Ohtani et al. (2017) talks about what it is about horseback riding that helps stimulate our brains and bodies - it's the horse's vibrations that you experience when riding. These vibrations were found to improve children's self-control and ability to make good decisions.
In a study by V. Chandler (2022) horseback riding appeared to have improved balance, posture, and core strength in children with ADHD and ASD, and anecdotal evidence from parents suggested many positive behavioral benefits as well.
If you think about the amazing benefits that horses have for kids with physical challenges like ADHD and Autism, you know that horses can benefit any child or person in the same way. And now just think of the benefits I could be providing myself if I could get my own butt back in the saddle...
Follow the link below to read these articles on the physical benefits of horses to children and youth.