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.
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.