Horsing around can make teenagers less stressed out, new research has revealed. 

A study found that children who spend time with horses or riding have lower levels of stress hormones, according to measurements taken from their saliva. 

Researchers looked at 130 teenagers taking part in an after school horsemanship course that lasted 12 weeks.

Teenagers who spend time with horses have lower levels of stress hormones in their bodies. 

They spent 90 minutes a week learning about horses: how to care for, groom, handle, and ride the animals. Each teenager gave six samples of saliva over a two day period before and after the 12 week program.Researchers analysed the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the samples.

The results, published in the American Psychological Association’s Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin, revealed that children who spent time with horses had ‘significantly’ lower stress levels than a control group. 

Dr Patricia Pendry, from Washington State University, said: ‘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. 

‘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.’

Researchers hope that the study could be a first step in finding ways to prevent teenagers developing mental health problems. Previous studies have already found that interacting with dogs, horses and cats can be good for children as it improves their self-esteem. However, the idea of horses reducing stress in adolescents has never before been studied. 

Dr Pendry said she hopes that horsemanship could be used as a form of therapy for people who have psychological problems. 

“We were coming at this from a prevention perspective,’ said Dr Pendry. “We are especially interested in optimising 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”.

-article by Emma Innes