The study involved 130 students in grades 5 to 8 who took part in a 12-week learning program at a riding facility in Washington state. The students spent 90 minutes a week learning about horse behavior, care, grooming, handling, riding and interaction.
Saliva samples collected from the children showed that they had significantly lower hormone stress levels after they completed the program, compared to students who did not take part in the program.
The study was published in the journal Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin.
Learning more about controlling stress hormone levels in kids is important "because we know from other research that healthy stress hormone patterns may protect against the development of physical and mental health problems," study author Patricia Pendry, a developmental psychologist at Washington State University, said in a university news release.
While many believe that children's self-esteem, behavior and social skills benefit from programs that provide interaction with horses, dogs, cats and other animals, there has previously been little scientific proof to support those claims, according to the news release.
The new study was supported by a grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about stress.