Bioethics Blogs

Have I Been Cheating? Reflections of an Equestrian Academic

By Kelsey Drewry
Kelsey Drewry is a student in the Master of Arts in Bioethics program at the Emory University Center for Ethics where she works as a graduate assistant for the Healthcare Ethics Consortium. Her current research focuses on computational linguistic analysis of health narrative data, and the use of illness narrative for informing clinical practice of supportive care for patients with neurodegenerative disorders.

After reading a recent study in Frontiers in Public Health (Ohtani et al. 2017) I realized I might have unwittingly been taking part in cognitive enhancement throughout the vast majority of my life. I have been a dedicated equestrian for over twenty years, riding recreationally and professionally in several disciplines. A fairly conservative estimate suggests I’ve spent over 5000 hours in the saddle. However, new evidence from a multi-university study in Japan suggests that horseback riding improves certain cognitive abilities in children. Thus, it seems my primary hobby and passion may have unfairly advantaged me in my academic career. Troubled by the implication that I may have unknowingly spent much of my time violating the moral tenets upon which my intellectual work rests, I was compelled to investigate the issue.

The study in question, “Horseback Riding Improves the Ability to Cause the Appropriate Action (Go Reaction) and the Appropriate Self-control (No-Go Reaction) in Children,” (Ohtani et al. 2017) suggests that the vibrations associated with horses’ movement activate the sympathetic nervous system, leading to improved cognitive ability in children. Specifically, children 10 to 12 years old completed either simple arithmetic or behavioral (go/no-go) tests before and after two 10 minute sessions of horseback riding, walking, or resting.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.