ADHD is a pervasive problem in this country, and one that is likely to continue to rise. While our society, in many ways, almost seems to promote ADHD with ever- increasing connection avoidance, people continue to struggle to manage ADHD. Certainly, medication can help, but the root of the problem — an inability to connect with those around you — can linger. And the question of just how to treat connection problems is even greater for those who may be so steeped in their Ipads, Smartphones and online world to know where to start. Well if we look at the problem as a difficulty in connecting with people, we might also look for something less intimidating to connect with, such as horses.
So how can a horse help someone overcome ADHD? Let take a look at a few ways.
- Enhanced emotional awareness: People who have ADHD often are not sure just what they feel, and consequently, have difficulty reading the emotions of those around them. This can of course go both ways as people around an ADHD person have trouble knowing what this person may be feeling. Animals, and particularly horses, however, are fantastic at identifying the emotions of those around them. This is, after all, how a herd animal communicates and preserves safety. With a skilled therapist, the behavior of the horse can help the ADHD person to begin to identify what he/she might be experiencing emotionally, underneath the distraction that ADHD presents.
- Lowered stress levels: Glucocorticoids, the more chronic of the stress hormones (Sapolsky, 2004), are registered at much higher levels in people who experience ADHD, than their symptoms free counterparts. Making the story even more challenging, for those with ADHD, social support may be limited, or even more anxiety provoking, meaning the typical methodology for lowering glucocorticoids is inhibited. Being around animals, such as horses, however, predictably lowers glucocorticoids in all anxiety conditions. When the stress comes down, the symptomatology that accompanies ADHD is also relieved.
- Increased Oxytocin: Oxytocin, the bonding hormone, can be disrupted with ADHD (Zak, 2011), and particularly with attachment disorders. When oxytocin is impaired, the feelings of connection toward another are also inhibited. However, as Zak points out, spending time with animals increases oxytocin, and promisingly, the effect is more pronounced in cases of lower beginning levels of oxytocin. Simply raising the oxytocin level of a person increases feelings of trust, morality, and prosperity — all important components of connection.
While the levels of ADHD are not expected to drop any time soon, at least through modalities such as equine therapy, we can find innovative ways to treat it.
1. Sapolsky, Robert. Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: An Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping. Holt Paperbacks, New York, N.Y., 2004.
2. Zak, Paul. Trust, Morality and Oxytocin. Ted Talks Channel, 2011.
Girl on horseback photo available from Shutterstock