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Horseback riding may boost learning in children

"There are many possible effects of human-animal interactions on child development," said researcher Mitsuaki Ohta.

By Brooks Hays
Horseback riding may boost cognitive performance and learning in children, new research suggests. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/a20c905ccf6502d3746416034ef5fd8f/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Horseback riding may boost cognitive performance and learning in children, new research suggests. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI | License Photo

March 2 (UPI) -- Researchers in Japan found horseback riding improved the performance of children on certain behavior tests. Scientists suggest the movements of horseback riding could translate to improved cognitive abilities.

"Few studies have addressed the effects of horseback riding on children and the mechanisms underlying how riding affects humans," Mitsuaki Ohta, a professor at the Tokyo University of Agriculture, said in a news release.

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Ohta and his colleagues had children take behavioral and arithmetic tests before and after horseback riding sessions. The "Go/No-go" test had children respond to rapid-fire computer questions designed to test a child's ability to appropriately take action or exert self-control. The arithmetic test consisted of basic math problems.

Children performed better on the Go/No-go test after horseback riding, but the riding sessions had no effect on arithmetic performance. Ohta and his partners published their findings in the journal Frontiers in Public Health.

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Researchers say it's possible the math problems were too easy, thus hiding any potential boost in performance.

"The Go/No-go tasks might be harder than the arithmetic problems and thus cause a more extensive activation of the sympathetic nervous system, since increases in heart rate were associated with the improved performance of Go/No-go tasks, but not arithmetic problems," Ohta said.

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Scientists aren't sure why horse riding seems to boost behavioral learning, but they hypothesize the three-dimensional accelerations of the horse's movements may stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, boosting cognitive learning.

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Of course, horseback riding isn't a realistic activity for most children. Ohta hopes to explore the effects of other types of human-animal interactions on learning.

"There are many possible effects of human-animal interactions on child development," Ohta concluded. "For instance, the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions, which we described in this study, and the ability to appreciate and respond to complex emotional influences and non-verbal communication, which requires further research to be understood."

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