Horses Can Benefit Those with Autism

We’ve known for some time that interaction with dogs can have a positive effect on those with autism and other disabilities. Horses are now being recognized for their psychological benefits by a growing numbers of therapists who work with autistic children. Scientists have found levels of oxytocin, the hormone which promotes social interaction and increases bonding and empathy, increase when interacting with horses and dogs.

“The horse is the perfect mirror, they are very emotional beings; we’re only starting to realize how intelligent they are,” said therapy counsellor Gabrielle Gardner, of Shine For Life. Although there is little research around equine therapy, American horse trainer Franklin Levinson says, “It has been clinically documented that just being around horses changes human brainwave patterns. We calm down and become more centred and focused when we are with horses. Horses are naturally empathetic. The members of the herd feel what is going on for the other members of the herd.”

Susan Dunne, adult with Asperger’s, recently wrote a blog about her relationship with horses. Susan says, “Horses force me (though force is perhaps the wrong word as I go willingly enough) to step outside of my front door into the daylight and fresh air that I would otherwise miss.   Riding exercises me physically, causes me to reconnect up with the body that I so often ignore being stuck in my own obsessive mental space.  With horses I am responsible for their welfare – I have to deal with the day to day reality of caring for them and I care about them very deeply.”

I have seen the positive effects on my own son with autism when he interacts with horses. In the words of Winston Churchill, “There’s something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” To read more about equine therapy and its uses, click here.

To find an organization that offers therapeutic riding and interaction with horses, contact the Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association (CanTRA) which is a registered charity that promotes challenge, achievement and empowerment for children and adults with disabilities through the use of the horse. There are members of this association all over Canada.

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  1. Dana says:

    I’m a teenage girl with autism, and this article has just been such a nice read! I am an avid rider, and I do feel like being around horses is very helpful to me. I can’t interact with humans as well as a neurotypical, but I can interact with horses extremely well.

    • Dana, I am so glad you liked the article. My son also loves horses and rides every Friday. My daughter prefers to be around cats and works in a cat shelter twice a week. I think we are very lucky in the world to have people that can interact with animals so beautifully.

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