Around the Water Trough

Your Horse Can Be Good for Your Heart 

Shannon Habenicht
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Horses and animals have always had a significant bond, and their companionship is something that could be good for your heart. Studies have shown that having an animal companion can help increase fitness levels, relieve stress, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and boost overall happiness and wellbeing.

Animals can also provide social support, which is an important factor in helping you stick with new healthy habits. In fact, the American Heart Association reviewed previous research that found having an animal was associated with fewer heart disease risk factors and increased survival among patients. 

To improve overall cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association suggests at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise (or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity). In fact, horseback riding can burn up to 300 calories in an hour. So, you can smile and know that by riding, you are improving your health. Of course, we’re not suggesting having a horse as a cure-all for bad habits. If having a horse will help you move more, then it’s a win-win! To learn more about how to live a healthier life, visit https://www.heart.org/en/professional/workplace-health/lifes-simple-7

Not only can horses help you live a healthier life, horse-riding therapy with music could be beneficial for stroke survivors. In a study published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke, horseback riding and rhythm-and-music therapies improved survivors’ perception of recovery, gait, balance, grip strength and cognition years after their stroke.

“Significant improvements are still possible, even years after a stroke, using motivating, comprehensive therapies provided in stimulating physical and social surroundings to increase brain activity and recovery,” said Michael Nilsson, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Hunter Medical Research Institute and professor at the University of Newcastle in Australia and University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Researchers studied 123 Swedish men and women who had suffered strokes 10 months to five years earlier. Survivors were randomly assigned to rhythm-and-music therapy, horse-riding therapy or ordinary care twice a week for 12 weeks.

Among those who said their perception recovery increased, 56 percent were in the horse-riding group; 38 percent in the rhythm-and-music group; and 17 percent in the usual care group.The perception of recovery was sustained at three-month and six-month follow-ups.

Horse-riding therapy produces a multisensory environment and the three-dimensional movements of the horse’s back create a sensory experience that closely resembles normal human gait.

In rhythm-and-music therapy, patients listen to music while performing rhythmic and cognitively demanding hand and feet movements to visual and audio cues. Researchers found that the rhythm-and-music activity helped survivors with balance, grip strength and working memory. Further analyses of the study results and follow-up studies involving more participants are planned to help determine efficiency, timing and costs.