Horse-riding is a popular recreational activity for many children, but did you know that it can also have positive effects on their cognitive abilities? Recent research has shown that the vibrations produced by horses during riding can activate the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the fight-or-flight response and can enhance learning and memory.
The sympathetic nervous system is part of the autonomic nervous system, which regulates involuntary functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, digestion and sweating. The sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for action by increasing heart rate, blood flow and alertness. It also affects the brain, especially the areas involved in attention, executive function and emotional regulation.
Researchers from Tokyo University of Agriculture conducted a study to examine how horse-riding affects the performance of children on cognitive tasks. They recruited 106 children aged 10 to 12 years old and divided them into two groups: one group rode horses for 10 minutes before taking the tests, while the other group did not. The tests included a Go/No-go task, which measures impulse control and response inhibition, and an arithmetic task, which measures mental calculation and working memory.
The results showed that riding on some horses significantly improved the children's performance on the Go/No-go task, but not on the arithmetic task. The researchers also measured the children's heart rate during riding and found that it was correlated with their performance on the Go/No-go task. This suggests that the vibrations from the horse's movements stimulated the sympathetic nervous system, which in turn enhanced the children's cognitive abilities.
The researchers explained that one possible mechanism behind this effect is that the horse's steps produce three-dimensional accelerations, which provide motor and sensory inputs to the human body. These inputs may activate the brain regions involved in attention and executive function, which are essential for performing the Go/No-go task.
The study demonstrates that horse-riding can have beneficial effects on children's development, especially in terms of their cognitive and behavioral skills. Horse-riding can also improve physical health, emotional well-being and social interaction. Therefore, horse-riding may be a valuable activity for children to engage in as part of their education and recreation.