A Calmer Horse Is Just a Sniff Away

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Isabelle Chea's goal for her University of Arizona Honors College thesis was simple — find a topic that interested her and supported her dream of working in the medical field. But she had no idea the field she would be doing her research in would be filled with horses.

Chea was a junior majoring in physiology with minors in biochemistry and Spanish when she enrolled in Physiology of Mind Body Interactions, taught by Ann Baldwin. In the class, Baldwin, a physiology professor and horsewoman, uses horses to teach students about heart rate; heart rate variability, which is a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat; and coherence, an indicator of autonomic balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems.

"As part of the class, we got to go out to the campus farm and interact with the horses. We wanted to see how controlling our heart rate variability towards a more coherent state might attract a horse and encourage them to approach us," said Chea, who called her first-ever interaction with a horse "a majestic experience." "One of the horses did come up to me, but I don't think I ever got to a coherent state because I was too excited, so it was definitely picking up on my excitement."

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