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Horseplay Protects Teens From Depression

Update Date: Apr 25, 2014 06:11 PM EDT

Fathers worldwide should think about getting their daughter a pony. Researchers found that teens who spend time with horses are less stressed than their horseless counterparts.

The latest study, which involved 130 teenagers who took a 12-week horsemanship course, revealed that kids who interact with horses have lower levels of stress hormones in their saliva.

Researchers said that the students dedicated 90 minutes a week to learn about horses: how to care for, groom, handle, and ride the animals. All participants were asked to give six saliva samples over a two-day period before and after the 12-week program.

Researchers then measured the amount of cortisol in the saliva samples.

The study found that children who got to interact with horses had 'significantly' lower stress levels than those in the control group.

"We found that children who had participated in the 12-week program had significantly lower stress hormone levels throughout the day and in the afternoon, compared to children in the waitlisted group," researcher Dr. Patricia Pendry of Washington State University said in a news release.

"We get excited about that because we know that higher base levels of cortisol - particularly in the afternoon - are considered a potential risk factor for the development of psychopathology," she said.

Researchers said the latest study suggests that horsemanship could be used as a form of therapy for people with mental illnesses.

"We were coming at this from a prevention perspective," said Pendry. "We are especially interested in optimizing healthy stress hormone production in young adolescents, because we know from other research that healthy stress hormone patterns may protect against the development of physical and mental health problems."

"The beauty of studying stress hormones is that they can be sampled quite noninvasively and conveniently by sampling saliva in naturalistic settings as individuals go about their regular day," she concluded.

The findings were published in the American Psychological Association's Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin.

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