On Solid Ground- Horse Therapy, Innovators, Celebrate Extension

“Horsing around” reduces stress in youth

New research from Washington State University reveals how youth who work with horses experience a substantial reduction in stress — and the evidence lies in kids’ saliva.

Pokey, a big, loveable Quarter horse gelding, is one of the equines in the PATH program.
Pokey, a big, loveable Quarter horse gelding, is one of the equines in the PATH program.

“We were coming at this from a prevention perspective” said Patricia Pendry, a developmental psychologist at WSU who studies how stress “gets under the skin” and its relationship to human development and prevention programs. “We are especially interested in optimizing healthy stress hormone production in young adolescents, because we know from other research that healthy stress hormone patterns can protect against the development of physical and mental health problems.”

“The beauty of studying stress hormones is that they can be sampled noninvasively and conveniently through saliva in naturalistic settings as individuals go about their regular day,” Pendry said. Her work is the first evidence-based research within the field of human-equine interaction to measure a change in participants’ levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.

While human-animal interaction programs with horses, dogs, cats and other companion animals have been credited with improving social competence, self-esteem and behavior in children, scientifically valid research to support these claims — and an understanding of the underlying mechanism for why people who participate in these programs report a positive experience — has been limited.

A child leads a horse during a 12-week equine-assisted learning program proven to reduce stress in kids. Photo by Patricia Pendry.
A child leads a horse during a 12-week equine-assisted learning program proven to reduce stress in kids. Photo by Patricia Pendry.

Three years ago, the National Institutes of Health began asking researchers to tackle big questions about the effects of human-animal interaction on child development. With the support of a $100,000 NIH grant, Pendry led a research project to engage students in grades five through eight in a 12-week equine-facilitated learning program in Pullman, Wash. She approached the coordinator of PATH (Palouse Area Therapeutic Horsemanship) at the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine, which has offered a therapeutic riding program for over 30 years. Pendry has been riding and working with horses since she was a child, and she reacquainted herself with therapeutic horsemanship when she began to look for her next research project at WSU.

Pendry said stress hormone functioning is a result of how we perceive stress, as well as how we cope with it. Stress is not just what you experience, she said; it’s also how you interpret the size of the stressor. A child who is in front of a large, unfamiliar horse may experience more stress than when working with a smaller, familiar animal.

Patricia Pendry
Patricia Pendry

Pendry worked with PATH director Sue Jacobson and Phyllis Erdman from the College of Education to design and implement an after-school program for 130 typically developing children over a two-year period. Students were bused from school to the barn once a week throughout the 12 weeks. Children were randomly chosen to participate in the program or placed on a waiting list for participation 16 weeks later. Based on natural horsemanship techniques, the program provided opportunities to learn about horse behavior, care and handling, grooming and riding, as well as interact with horses for 90 minutes each week.

Participants provided six samples of saliva over a two-day period before starting the program and again after completing it. Pendry compared the levels and patterns of stress hormone functioning by measuring the cortisol collected, and the results were exciting, she said.

“We found that children who had participated in the 12-week program had significantly lower stress hormone levels throughout the day and in the afternoon compared to children in the wait-listed group. We get excited about that because higher base levels of cortisol — particularly in the afternoon — are considered a potential risk factor for the development of psychopathology,” Pendry said. She published her results in the American Psychological Association’s Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin this month.

Pendry said the experimental design underlying this study gives more scientific credit to the claims of therapeutic horsemanship professionals, parents and children who have reported positive impacts from these types of programs. She hopes the results will lead to the development of alternative after-school programs and evaluation for meeting the needs of children who experience high levels of stress and physical or mental health issues.

“Partly because of NIH’s effort to bring hard science to the field of human animal interaction, program implementers now have scientific evidence to support what they are doing,” said Pendry.

Learn more about the WSU Department of Human Development at http://hd.wsu.edu.

This article is based on “Randomized Trial Examines Effects of Equine Facilitated Learning on Adolescents’ Basal Cortisol Levels” by Patricia Pendry, Annelise N. Smith, and Stephanie M. Roeter in the April 2014, Volume 2, No. 1 issue of the open-access Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin.

-Rachel Webber

How has WSU Extension made a difference in your life? Share your story!Print

In 2014, WSU and fellow land-grant universities are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the federal Smith-Lever Act, which established the Cooperative Extension Service. As part of the year-long celebration, WSU Extension is asking students, faculty, staff, alumni, volunteers and friends to share their experiences of how Extension programs, services and people have enriched their lives. The goal is to collect 100 stories. To read the first batch submitted, go to http://ext100.wsu.edu/anniversary/storyproject/.

Please share yours at www.cahnrs.wsu.edu/extensionstories.
For more information on the national celebration, visit http://www.extension100years.net. Connect for updates on WSU Extension celebrations at CAHNRS Facebook.

New home gardening publications springing up from WSU ExtensionHVGiW

Spring really is here, in the Pacific Northwest. Fruit trees are blooming or about to, and that lawn already needs a mowing! If you’re ready to make good on your new year’s resolution to get out and garden more, WSU Extension is ready to help through the Home Garden Series of publications. Novice and experienced gardeners alike will find lots of useful and practical information in this series, starting with Home Vegetable Gardening in Washington (EM057E), a manual that covers everything from choosing a garden site, to starting seeds, transplanting your starts, and managing pests. Short, individual fact sheets are available for growing specific crops such as onions (FS097E), carrots (FS118E), green beans (FS088E), squash (FS087E), sweet corn (FS104E), and more.

Still other fact sheets address single gardening topics such as organic soil amendments or organic fungicides. Find out what a cover crop is and how to grow one for overall garden health (FS111E and FS117E), or read about pruning equipment and how to choose and use the best tool for your pruning needs. You can also learn how to identify and encourage beneficial insects, spiders, and mites that are powerful partners in successful gardening (EM067E). And, if you want to turn that “verge” between the sidewalk and street into a garden, there’s even a free publication that can help you do that: Growing Food in Parking Strip and Front Yard Gardens (FS115E).
Come visit the WSU Extension online bookstore for details on these and other helpful publications – new ones are sprouting up regularly.

At pubs.wsu.edu you’ll find pricing and ordering information, but many of our publications are available as a free pdf download. Contact us at ext.pubs@wsu.edu and let us know how we can help you get growing!

Innovating a future for quinoa

Efforts to establish a quinoa production center in the Pacific Northwest will be presented by crop breeding expert Kevin Murphy at the Washington State University Innovators lecture and lunch on Thursday, April 24, in Seattle.

Watch as Kevin Murphy delivers a message about quinoa in the United States and around the world. Video by Cougar Studios.
Watch as Kevin Murphy delivers a message about quinoa in the United States and around the world. Video by Cougar Studios.

Quinoa has captivated the world with its powerful package of proteins and phytonutrients and its gluten-free status. WSU’s efforts in quinoa production and organic crops are geared toward spurring local agricultural economies.

“Washington is fortunate to have a climate conducive to the production of the highest quality quinoa, but the industry is still in its infancy,” says Murphy, assistant professor in WSU crop and soil sciences who is focusing on quinoa and alternative crops for organic farmers.

WSU is leading research into the seed’s moxie as a healthy food source, an ally in fighting world hunger and a potentially profitable crop for growers in the Pacific Northwest. Funded by a $1.6 million grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture — plus grants from the Organic Farming Research Foundation, Seed Matters/Clif Bar Family Foundation and the WSU BIOAg program — Murphy and his team are testing more than 1,000 quinoa varieties grown with a number of Washington farming systems in bioregions across the state.

A significant challenge in developing quinoa’s full economic potential in the Pacific Northwest is lack of a processing center. Quinoa is coated with a bitter soapy substance called saponin that is inedible and mildly toxic but can be removed during processing.

Click to view on Facebook. Photo by Meredith Metsker, WSU.
Click to view on Facebook. Photo by Meredith Metsker, WSU.

In an effort to combine research and education, Murphy is looking to establish a prototype processing facility on WSU’s organic teaching farm in Pullman. The “farm-to-fork” facility would include a food lab where students and faculty from WSU’s food science program could develop quinoa-based recipes and products. Once this critical link in the quinoa production chain has been established, Murphy says the research program “will have an immediate positive impact on current and future quinoa farmers of Washington state. We are well placed to establish the Pacific Northwest as the premier quinoa production region in the United States.”

To register for the April 24 Innovators event, go to http://bit.ly/1dLtwOL.

-Rebecca Phillips

This article was adapted from the original version at WSU News