Research supporting Horse Boy Techniques

  • Our bodies are built to deal with short term stress not chronic stress. Chronic levels of cortisol damage cells in the hippocampus which impairs our ability to learn (Medina, 2008).
  • Children with autism have elevated levels of cortisol and tend to respond to novel and threatening stimuli with extreme cortisol reactions (Corbett et al, 2006).
  • Oxytocin can help decrease stress by acting on the amygdala and inhibiting cortisol production (Neumann, 2008; Heinrichs et al, 2003).
  • Oxytocin might lead to improved speech comprehension in individuals with an autism spectrum disorder (Hollander et al, 2007). 
  • Low functioning children with autism have higher levels cortisol throughout the day than higher functioning children or neurotypical children. Researchers suggest that the elevated cortisol level may be linked to functionality. (Putnam et al, 2015)
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  • Positive interactions between humans and non-human mammals (such as dogs, cats or horses) can lead to an increase in oxytocin and a corresponding decrease in cortisol (Odendaal, 2000; Barker et al, 2005; Handlin et al,2011). Especially true in children with autism whose cortisol levels upon waking are reduced by up to 60% in the presence of a dog (Viau et al, 2010).
  • Children who participated in a 12 week riding program had significantly lower stress hormone levels than a waitlist control (Pendry, 2014).
  • Equine Assisted therapy leads to greater functionality in children with autism, especially in regards to their expressive language and social skills (Bass et al, 2009; Gabriel’s et al, 2012).
  • The presence of a dog leads to increased attention, social interaction and language. This is a direct result of activation of the oxytocin system (Beetz & UvnA, 2012).
  • In the first ever large-scale randomized controlled trial therapeutic horseback riding was found to be of benefit to children with an ASD (Gabriels et al, 2015)
  • The horse’s rhythmic stride may have a calming effect with its vestibular-cerebellar stimulation which studies show can lead to an improvement in hyperactivity (Arnold et al, 1985).
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  • People who live in areas with more green space have lower levels of cortisol (Ward et al, 2012).
  • Having plants in your home is linked to lower levels of cortisol (Ward et al, 2012)
  • ADHD symptoms greatly reduced when in the presence of nature or doing activities in nature (Kuo & Taylor, 2004).
  • Walking through nature evidence of lower frustration, engagement and arousal, and higher concentration and positive emotions (Aspinall et al 2013)
  • A strain of bacterium in soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, has been found to trigger the release of seratonin, which in turn elevates mood and decreases anxiety.Seratonin is also thought to play a role in learning (Jenks & Matthews, 2010).
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  •  Sensory over-responsitivity is now considered to be a core feature of autism (Ben-Sassoon et al, 2009). Children with autism are five times more likely to have sensory over-responsitivity than members of the general public (Green & Ben-Sasson, 2010).
  • Sensory processing difficulties are a unique predictor of communication competence and maladaptive behaviors (Lane et al, 2010).
  • Sensory stimulation (such as a loud noise or scratch sweater) causes hyperactivation in the primary sensory cortex (responsible for initially processing sensory information) and amygdala of children with autism. What’s more autistic brains do not ‘get used’ to the sensory information over time – their responses remain elevated (Owen et al, 2013).
  • Simply replacing fluorescent lights with softer and colored lighting, playing soothing music and using butterfly wraps that provide calming deep pressure dramatically decreased anxiety and negative behaviors among children with autism (Stein et al, 2013).
  • Deep pressure is therapeutically beneficial for children with an autism spectrum disorder (Grandin, 1992; Edelson et al, 1999).
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  • Oxytocin is released in response to sensory stimulation, such as warmth or touch (Uvnäs-Moberg, 1998).
  • Skin to skin contact with the horse helps calm the sensory systems of children with autism, perhaps due to the gentle rocking motion of the horse (Solodkin et al, 2007).
  • Equine assisted therapy is an effective therapy for sensory integration difficulties – (Candler, 2003).
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  • We are evolutionarily programmed to learn on the move – (Leonard et al, 1997)
  • Imaging studies have shown that when we exercise there is increased blood flow to the dentate gyrus which is a part of the hippocampus deeply involved in memory formation (Green et al, 2004).
  • Imaging studies have shown that exercise stimulates the brain’s most powerful growth factor, BDNF, which is responsible for creating new brain cells and encouraging neurons to connect with one another, both essential parts of learning (Vaynman et al, 2006).
  • There is a strong body of evidence that shows a strong relationship between motor and cognitive processes. There are direct links between the cerebellum and the basal ganglia (two parts of the brain that process motor activities) and the parts of the brain that process language and memory i.e. cerebellum activation triggers activation in these other parts of the brain (Middleton & Strick, 1994).
  • The vestibular (inner ear) is activated by any movement that stimulates inner-ear motion such as swinging, rolling, jumping or riding a horse. Activation of the vestibular causes activation of the reticular activating system which is critical to our attentional system and learning (Wolfe, 2005).
  • Oxygen is essential for brain function, and enhanced blood flow increases the amount of oxygen transported to the brain. Physical activity is a reliable way to increase blood flow, and hence oxygen, to the brain (Medina, 2008)
  • Simply standing increases heart rate and this blood flow by up to 10% in just seconds (Krock & Hartung, 1992).
  • 68% of high school students in the US do not participate in a daily physical education program (Grunbaum, 2002).
  • Numerous studies show that increased exercise leads to better academic performance and increased learning in general (Summerford, 2001).
  • Children with dyslexia were helped by a movement program i.e. when they were allowed to move their reading scores increased (Reynolds et al, 2003).
  • Children with autism show reduced activation in the pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for emotional regulation. This could explain why many children with ASD exhibit symptoms such as irritability, problems with delayed gratification, anxiety and tantrums.
  • Children with autism and sensory over-responsivity have stronger brain responses in the areas of the brain that process sensory information as well as the amygdala than children with just autism. Both groups of children showed an initial similar brain response but those children with sensory over-sensitivity took much longer to get used to the stimuli. It is suggested that those children with autism that do not have sensory over-responsivity may be compensating through strong brain connectivity between their pre-frontal cortex and amygdala.
  • Recent research coming out of The University of Loughborough shows that not only are children starting school less physically ready than ever before, but that teachers are noticing this change and its impact in the classroom.
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  • The movement of the horse stimulates the cerebellum which has been linked to both language and attention (Bass et al, 2009; Wolf et al, 2009).
  • Close body contact stimulates the release of oxytocin which is linked to decreased levels of stress and anxiety. Both are essential to learning (Holt-Lunstad, 2008)
  • Children with autism experience activation of the amygdala when forced to maintain eye contact (Kleinhans et al, 2010). 
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  • Parents of children with autism experience greater stress and depression than parents of typically developing children (Baker-Ericzen et al, 2005, Higgens, 2005).
  • Pre-intervention parental stress levels are the single most important predictor of the success of early intervention programs (Robbins et al, 1991).
  • Self-compassion universally predicts parental well-being over and above the effects of child symptom severity (Neff & Faso, 2014)
  • Mindfulness and psychological acceptance have a significant mediating effect on maternal anxiety, depression and stress.
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  • Extrinsic motivation reduces task interest and can undermine independent learning by making the individual dependent on the source of the reward (e.g. the teacher). This results in an individual who is less able to source information themselves. Extrinsic motivation leads to superficial learning that does not generalize across contexts or situations (Shirley, 1992)
  • We pay more attention to information we are interested in and this leads to more powerful, long-term learning (Shirley, 1992).
  • Children with autism’s difficulty with sustaining attention on an imposed task may be more due to the motivational contingencies of the task rather than to impairment in their ability to sustain attention (Garretson, 1990).
  • Children with autism may be difficult to test using standardized measures but improving motivation may significantly enhance their testing performance (Koegel, 1997).
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  • Both adults and children with autism experience memory difficulties when asked a direct recall question. When asked to choose between information that they have learned and not learned they were unimpaired (Maister et al, 2013).
  • Our brain is hard-wired to process the gist of a topic before the details. Information should therefore be presented in this way (LeDoux, 2002; Turk-Browne et al, 2006; Adolphs et al, 2005; Squire, 1999). 
  • A recent study found that toddlers learn best by observing other people doing an activity. The study went on to suggest that it might be more prudent for teachers to start introducing abstract mathematical concepts earlier using cause and effect type strategies (Waismeyer et al, 2014).
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  • Laughter can reduce levels of the stress hormone, cortisol (Berk et al ,1989, Bennett et al, 2008). Studies have also shown laughter increases levels of oxytocin and also melatonin (Bennett et al, 2003).
  • Students were more likely to recall a statistics lecture when it was interjected with jokes about relevant topics (Garner, 2006).
  • Laughter yoga was first introduced into schools in India in 1998. One school even has a dedicated ‘laughter master’. Teachers are reporting that students are more engaged, willing to learn and creative (  
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  • Autistic people who avoid eye contact experience more amygdala stimulation when forced to look in people’s eyes. This is the “fight or flight” stress response, and the researchers suggest that autistic reactions to faces including feeling that they are threatening (Tottenham et al, 2013).
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  • Humans are natural explorers. We are born with an intense desire to explore the world around us. We can become anesthetized to this but our brain never loses the ability to learn in this way (Medina, 2008).
  • Companies that give staff time to explore where their mind asks them to have increased productivity and creativity (Medirata, 2007).
  • Children who spend less time in structured activities and more time playing and exploring have better self-directed executive function.
    Executive function is essential for flexibly switching between different activities rather than getting stuck on one thing, stopping yourself from yelling when angry, delaying gratification etc.
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  • Interventions are needed that address not only the child but the family as a whole - Schuntermann, P. (2007).
  • Family stress can be an attributing factor for an unfavorable prognosis – Siefer et al, 2002).
  • Social support is a protective factor for the adaption of parents of children with autism -Lounds, J. (2004)
  • Eighty percent of siblings have little to no involvement in childhood activities – (Barak-Levey et al, 2010).
  • The sibling relationship is damaged when siblings of children with developmental delays experience anger and frustration due to lack of involvement in childhood activities – (Kaminskyet al, 2002).
  • Non-conflicting sibling relationship is a protective factor for later maladjustment in the siblings of children with developmental disabilities – Fisman et al, 1996).
  • Numerous benefits in child and parent outcomes have been associated with the degree of parental involvement in the treatment of the ASD (Burrell & Borrego, 2012).
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  • Studies have found that sitting for prolonged periods of time is bad for one's waistline, blood pressure and cholesterol and some studies have even strongly correlated sitting with reduced life expectancy. But a recent study has found that taking a five minute walk at least once every hour can mitigate some of these ill effects (Thosar et al, 2014)
  • The average adult attention span is between 10 and 15 minutes (McKeachie , 1999).
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The Long Ride Home

The long awaited sequel of the Horse Boy.


longridehome 4