Older riders derive emotional benefits from being in the saddle, study shows

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Being at one with nature on horseback has significant emotional benefits for older riders, the findings of fresh research shows.

The findings of the study in Austria point to the psychological benefits derived from the simple act of getting out and riding a horse, or walking a dog around neighborhoods and parks.

Connectedness to nature and contact with nature can provide many benefits to humans, such as stress reduction, recovery from illness, and increased positive emotions, Gabriele Schwarzmüller-Erber and her colleagues wrote in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Likewise, recreational horseback riding is a common activity with the potential to enhance physical and psychological health.

“Yet, the influence of connectedness to nature on the wellbeing of older aged recreational horseback riders has not been investigated so far,” the study team noted.

For their study, the researchers set out to explore the relationship between nature relatedness and physical, psychological and social wellbeing and happiness. Their work centered on a group of Austrian recreational horseback riders aged 45 years and older, who were compared with dog owners and people without pets.

In all, the research involved 178 individuals, comprising 67 recreational riders, 57 dog owners and 54 people without pets, all older than 44. All answered a 14-page questionnaire, which took about an hour.

Women comprised 88.1% of the riders, 63.2% of the dog owners, and 59.3% of those without pets.

The researchers found significantly higher nature relatedness, higher overall wellbeing and much better mood ratings among the recreational horseback riders when compared to those without pets.

The horseback riders returned similar scores to the dog owners.

Physical wellbeing was also found to be correlated with overall nature relatedness among the horseback riders and dog owners, but no such correlation was found in people without pets.

The results suggest the activity with horses and dogs in natural environments is a source of wellbeing, enjoyment, self-confidence and social contacts.

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“We showed for the first time that both riders and dog owners profit in wellbeing and mood from their pets, but the structure of these relationships differs,” the authors said.

Riders reported a significantly higher score in terms of physical wellbeing compared to dog owners and those without pets, which is in accordance with other studies.

“Riding is associated with increased trunk stabilization and muscle strengthening, which might explain this difference,” they said.

Natural environments have been associated with positive feelings and decreased depression, as well as higher perceived mental health. While the simple role of activity in nature may, in itself, explain the findings, the findings suggested there was more to it than that.

It was clear that during riding, wellbeing, positive emotions and happiness were improved by this activity.

Pet attachment and activity levels influenced wellbeing and happiness, the study team concluded, adding that they observed a pattern of such relationships among both riders and dog owners.

“This study adds additional evidence and extends existing knowledge about nature relatedness, pet attachment and activities with dogs and horses.

“Pet ownership, regardless of whether horses or dogs, promotes wellbeing and happiness by activities with and closeness to these animals.

“Additionally, horseback riding and dog walking might help to reach the recommended activity levels.

“The results suggest that horseback riding provides similar benefits as are already known for dog walking.”

The study team comprised Schwarzmüller-Erber, Michael Kundi and Manfred Maier, all with the Medical University Vienna; and Harald Stummer, who is with the Institute for Management and Economics in Health Care in Austria.

Nature Relatedness of Recreational Horseback Riders and Its Association with Mood and Wellbeing
Gabriele Schwarzmüller-Erber, Harald Stummer, Manfred Maier and Michael Kundi.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 17(11), 4136; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17114136

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here

 

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