Horses ease depression and increase ‘love drug’ hormone, says Polish researcher

Janów Podlaski, 21.05.2013. Horse stud farm in Janów Podlaski. PAP/Andrzej Rybczyński
Janów Podlaski, 21.05.2013. Horse stud farm in Janów Podlaski. PAP/Andrzej Rybczyński

Spending time with horse can help ease depression by increasing people’s levels of oxytocin, according to research from the University of Lodz.

Often referred to as ‘the love drug’ because of its increase during sexual activity, the hormone is said to be produced during ‘communication’ with horses, inducing a therapeutic effect. 

Investigating depression therapy with a method known as Horse Assisted Education, doctoral candidate Kinga Rucka said contact with horses can also help shape communication and social skills.

She said: “The therapeutic process is designed to improve human communication with the outside world. It has nothing to do with horse riding. The animals help patients to work on their problems.”


Rucka found that people who work with horses everyday have better results in attention and perceptiveness tests and induced reflective thinking while broadening self -awareness.

She said: “Contact with a horse teaches mindfulness and quick response to emerging stimuli. Horses are masters of non-verbal communication and want to communicate with us all the time, and the signals they send are often subtle and not always visible.”

She added: “People with depression often have lower levels of this neuropeptide. According to literature, contact with animals (until now mainly house pets) increases the concentration of oxytocin, and consequently improves relationships with others.”

Rucka now plans to investigate how a person with a recurring depressive disorder will react to contact with a horse. 

In her research, she will use personality, emotional intelligence and depression scale questionnaires. As a biological indicator, she selected the level of oxytocin, because this hormone is responsible for building relationships and forming bonds, among other things.


In the Horse Assisted Education (HAE) method, a person learns in the company of horses and develops social skills such as communication, motivation, leadership, setting goals, building relationships, and works with emotions.

Rucka said: “Horses are primarily herd animals, they look for leaders during interactions, both among other members of the herd as well as among people. 

“They also read your emotions and non-verbal communication very well and sense the rhythm of the heart, which tells them about your attitude and well-being. 

“They give you immediate feedback and react to your current mental states without judging your appearance or economic status.”

She added that just as horses constantly communicate and look for signals to best adapt to a person and guess what is expected of them, during a partnership interaction with an animal, a person also learns to calm down and relax.

She said: “Although these animals are very delicate and subtle, we feel the courage emanating from them, which fills us with strength. And I consider this to be the core and uniqueness of the human-horse relationship.”

The HAE method is often used in work with people with mental problems, including post-traumatic stress syndrome or depression. It is supported by psychological knowledge, and the basics of theoretical models are available in scientific studies.

As part of the doctoral dissertation under the supervision of Professor Monika Talarowska, Rucka hopes to use horse-assisted therapy as a supplement to traditional psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy in the treatment of depression.

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