Last Updated on March 9, 2022
There is no denying that horses and humans can form a special relationship, but do horses bond with humans in the way we’d like to think they do? It is hard to answer this question. Two different studies concluded two contradictory answers to this eternal question.
Anthropomorphism is the term used to describe the human tendency to attribute human emotions, behaviors, or intentions to something non-human. In this case, we refer to animals, specifically horses. Anthropomorphizing is prevalent amongst those who work with horses.
Doing this can lead to problems working with your horse, potentially affecting their behavior and even welfare. You think a horse is trying to communicate one thing when in reality it is something completely different. When working with a horse, it is important to separate what we feel and think from the horse in front of us.
Do Horses Bond With Humans?
Horses do not feel emotions in the same way that humans do, that is not to say horses don’t have emotions. This is where anthropomorphism comes in, and we need to try and take a more neutral look at the subject. Spending time with a horse does form some kind of connection, but possibly not in the way we think it does.
How we deal with a horse influences how much a horse trusts us. A well-treated horse will recognize us when it sees us and often comes over to greet us. A horse that sufferers abuse can lose its trust in humans, moving away from them or presenting defensive behavior in their presence.
A horse is a herd animal. To the horse, the herd means safety. During training, a horse learns to look to us for instructions, much as it would look to the herd leader.
This behavior indicates that the horse’s behavior towards humans is similar to how they interact with their herd. Leading to the conclusion that a horse that wants to spend time with us associates us with safety. In one way, this behavior is a kind of bond.
Learn more about: Are Horses Meant To Be Ridden?
2020 Study On Horse Bonds With Humans
The first study we’ll discuss focused on if horses formed the same attachment with their owner as they did with a stranger. In the study, the horse was placed in a small area by its owner and a stranger. The horse was then left alone for a period of time to observe until the handler returned.
During the study, a heart monitor recorded the horse’s heart rate. In nearly all cases, the horses spent most of their time waiting by the entrance to their enclosure. When both the owner and the stranger left the horse alone, its heart rate increased.
When the handlers returned, the heart rate of the horse decreased, without differentiating between the humans. The conclusion indicated that the horses attached themselves to humans, but not one particular person. This shows that horses feel that humans are safe, supporting the herd behavior school of thought.
The authors of the study do admit it has flaws and refining the research will give better insight into answering the human, horse bond question.
Horse Brain, Human Brain: The Neuroscience of Horsemanship
Confirmation That Horse Bond With Humans
A different study contradicts the results of the 2020 report. This study was published by Discovery News and concludes horses form a stronger relationship with humans that treat them well. It praises positive interaction with horses, including kind voice tones and treats.
In addition to confirming a stronger bond with humans that treat them well, the study also states that these horses remember these people for a lifetime. This memory stayed, even with long periods of separation.
Horses also remember the bonds they created with other horses after a long gap. This wonderful video shows a horse reunited with two friends after a four-year separation.
Horses Recognize Human Emotion
The second study ties into another study, confirming a horse’s ability to recognize human emotion. In the study, images of a face showing different expressions, including anger, smiles, and frowning are shown to horses. When looking at an angry image, the horse’s heart rate increased, while simultaneously moving their heads to view the image from their left eye.
Do Horses Like Humans? Conclusion
With the flaws in the first discussed study and adding personal experience, it is a strong possibility that horses do bond with humans. The second study supports this belief.
However, it is important to understand that the bond itself is not necessarily how the human mind interprets it. It is clear that horses treated well will respond better to a human, offering them more trust and willingness. Treat your horse well, and the bond will follow.
How do you tell if your horse has bonded with you?
You can see if a horse likes you by observing how they react around you. A friendly horse is eager to accompany you through thick and thin; it wants to spend time with you, it’s contented in your presence. You’ve bonded with the horse and it knows that you are a safe pair. It’s fond of you, and trusts you.
A horse that doesn’t want to hang around with you is usually skittish, and will back away or run away if you approach.
Do horses get excited to see their owners?
Horses are social animals and normally live in groups of related individuals. They have a strong sense of family and loyalty to each other. They communicate with each other by neighing, whinnying and other sounds that they make. They also communicate with humans using their facial expressions, body language and sounds. They may show signs of excitement or anxiety when seeing their owners, depending on the relationship with their human companions. A horse’s response to the owner is a reflection of the owner’s behaviour towards the horse.
When a horse has a owner, who is treating him with love and respect, he will naturally respond to this by being happy and confident. He will greet the owner warmly and allow him to groom him or pet him. If the owner is not well-behaved towards the horse, then the horse will become anxious and fearful. He will try to get away from the abusive person and may even try to kick or bite. This is a normal reaction that horses have when they feel threatened or uncomfortable.
Do horses like human affection?
Horses may not love each other in the same capacity of human love. However, they can still feel affection toward others and for sure they appreciate human affection. The fact that a horse may not reciprocate that feeling as much as a human can’t take away the fact that they can feel it.
Horses can express their love in ways that may not be entirely understood by humans. They are social animals, and therefore, they need social contact. Horses are also herd animals, and therefore, they need to be part of a group. If a horse is lonely and does not have friends, they will often express their emotions by stomping or shaking their head or even by kicking their legs. It is very common for horses to show their affection by touching, kissing, nuzzling and licking their companion.
Can a horse remember you?
Horses have been proven to have exceptional memories. While it’s true that horses can recognize individual humans and can remember their own people for a long time, it appears they also remember a lot of information about their past as well. Horses understand words better than expected, according to the research. They have been shown to also remember complex, problem-solving strategies for ten years or more.
The memory of a horse is not only impressive, but can be used for many things. From training to working with a therapeutic horse, a horse’s memory can help make all kinds of things easier and more effective. If you want to train your horse, or if you are already training your horse, a great way to help it learn is to use reward-based methods. A horse has a strong memory that makes it easy to remember what it does well, and what it doesn’t.
Michael Dehaan is a passionate horse owner, horse rider, and lover of all things equine. He has been around horses since he was a child, and has grown to become an expert in the field. He has owned and ridden a variety of horses of different breeds, and has trained many to compete in shows and competitions. He is an experienced horseman, having worked with and competed many horses, including his own. He is an active member of the equestrian community, participating in events and teaching riding lessons.