How Riding Horses Affects Your Brain

 In Blog, Equine Confessions

Jill Bolte Taylor is a passionate brain scientist who loves exploring the brain so much, she actually underwent a moment of excitement at the realization she was having a stroke. With glee she soaked up the opportunity, a chance to analyze the brain during a stroke  “from the inside out.” Besides a massive pounding in her head, the day of Jill’s stroke started off like any other as she climbed onto her elliptical and started working out, that is until her hands started looking like odd-shaped claws and the pain in her head only sharpened.

The right side of our brain controls emotions, creativity, and feelings, processing the here and right now, while the left side of our brain organizes our thoughts, plans for us, and keeps us rational, orderly humans who can’t stop thinking about the past or future. The unknown blood clot in Jill Taylor’s brain was actually turning off the left side of her brain, as she’d loose left-side consciousness, Jill describes a world she fondly calls “la-la land”, where everything was so beautiful and wonderful, and she was not Jill Taylor but just a part of it all, unaware where the borders of her body ended and the objects around here began. When she’d regain some of her left-brain functions she’d pop awake into reality, that inner-voice once again telling her she needed to get help. It took her over 45 minutes to call work, although when someone finally answered she realized she couldn’t understand language, let alone speak herself! Thankfully, Jill survived her scary ordeal and lived to tell about it, from the perspective of someone who fully understands the inner-workings of the human brain. A spiritual scientist per-say, Jill inspires others to believe that you can enter a peaceful paradise within your own mind, by simply turning off the logical, linguistic, and planning side of the mind, it is here that you can find the place Jill, with tears in her eyes fondly calls, “Nirvana.”

Not that anything can compare with Jill’s experience—literally having the left side of your brain shut down while the right side remains conscious is an experience we can never comprehend unless it happens to us—but her whole ordeal still reminded me of horseback riding. Why? You might be wondering, perhaps even rolling your eyes unable to see the comparisons. But there’s nothing that quiets my own mind more than when I canter atop a horse, the wind blowing against my face, in these moments it’s as if nothing else in the world matters. I’m not thinking about the past or future, I am completely in the now, and everything just makes sense. So does that mean the left side of my brain is coming to a slow as I ride?  Recently science has been asking questions about the changes the brain undergoes when we ride a horse, largely in search of why it is so therapeutic for mental and physical disabilities. Autistic children regularly experience increased function after being introduced to horseback riding, which has a lot to do with the actual rocking motion a horses gait produces. This motion moves the body in a unique way, soothing the nervous center of our brains, essentially banishing a voice in our head that some can never seem to turn off.

Riding is largely subconscious; think of it this way—as you ride there are certain muscles that you are using in synch with your horse that you would otherwise not be using to do anything else, your body doesn’t even think to use some of these tiny intricate muscles on its own, and therefore does them specifically in response to the movement of the horse. As you make all sorts of subtle adjustments with your ankle, knee, thigh, and even fingers, you become in a trance of sorts. For some it might take a stroke, or a near-death experience, but for me it only takes getting on the back of a horse. Up here I know we are all connected, all a small part of this spectacularly magical planet we call home, a place where horses and humans can be the best of friends, and what’s more magical than that?