Riding Horses Might Make Kids Smarter

I have very fond memories of riding horses growing up. From plodding trail rides as a little kid to actual horseback riding camp way up in the woods of Wisconsin during the summers to spring breaks spent on ranches, all have created special memories for me. And now, science says it might have actually made me smarter. Two birds, one stone!

According to a new study from the Toyko University of Agriculture, horseback riding could improve memory, problem-solving and learning. How is that possible, you ask? Well, researchers have discovered that the vibrations created by riding a horse activate the sympathetic nervous system in the brain. Yes, really.

horseback riding photo
Flickr | dpape

Published in Frontiers in Public Health, the study included a situation in which children were asked to complete simple response and mathematical tests—once before riding and once afterwards. The results of the study showed that horseback riding significantly improved the children’s performance on behavioral tasks. This led to better memory, learning and problem solving abilities. When it came to solving math problems, however, the findings were less significant.

Unfortunately, you can’t replace riding horses with any activity that causes a slight vibration. Sitting in a massage chair or riding a bike, for example, won’t cut it. It absolutely has to be a horse. But why?

horses photo
Getty Images | Lintao Zhang

“One important characteristic of horse steps is that they produce three-dimensional accelerations,” study author Professor Mitsuaki Ohta told the Independent in an interview. “The movement of the horse’s pelvis may provide motor and sensory inputs to the human body, and in this study I believe some of the differences among the rider’s performances might be due to these accelerations.”

Now to be fair, the study was small—only 34 boys and 72 girls ages 10-12 participated. But still, just one more reason to make horseback riding your after-school activity of choice.

Time to saddle up!