In a new study, researchers found that horseback riding combined with brain-building exercises can improve the dexterity, coordination, and strength of children with autism, ADHD.
The research was conducted by a team from Texas Woman’s University.
Neurodevelopmental disorders—such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – affect as many as one in six American children.
Physical activity is known to benefit these patients in a variety of ways, but this is the first study showing the short and long-term effects of a program combining horseback riding and cognitive training.
In the study, the team recruited 25 children with neurodevelopmental disorders between the ages of 5 and 16.
Each child completed one of several different programs ranging in length from eight weeks to one year.
The programs included weekly introductory horseback riding, as well as sessions with a speech therapist two to three times per week.
During the horseback riding, the children learned about horse anatomy, riding equipment, and the basics of riding.
The brain-building activities focused on exercises that train the brain to process sensory information such as sound, sight, balance and spatial orientation.
These sessions included music therapy, eye tracking exercises, and hand-eye coordination tasks. The children and their parents were also given daily exercises that they could perform at home.
After eight weeks of the program, the children showed improved motor skills, although there was sometimes a delay before the changes became apparent.
For the participants that continued the program for one year, these benefits continued for the duration of the study.
These participants also showed improvements in their behavior and academic performance, including social and communication skills.
Additionally, anecdotal responses from parents and caregivers suggested that the children were more positive, focused and calm both in and outside of the program.
The team says the findings should be helpful to therapists and other healthcare professionals who are tasked with implementing strategies and interventions to improve motor skill proficiency in children and youth with ADHD and ASD.
The lead author of the study is Dr. Brandon Rigby from Texas Woman’s University in the United States.
The study is published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science.
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