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6 things that show how connected you are to your horse

6 things that show how connected you are to your horse
6 things that show how connected you are to your horse

New research reveals the key to a good partnership. Attachment between humans and animals has many physical, social, and psychological benefits. Now, researchers in the United Kingdom have developed a method to assess the bond that we humans have developed with our horses.

Attachment is the degree to which horse owners feel closely connected to their animals, and it can be influenced by many factors. This is according to Stephanie Evans from Hartpury University in England. The relationship between horse and rider is the key to a good partnership. For many people, their pets mean far more to them than just an animal they own. According to Stephanie Evans, pet owners largely see their animals, including horses, as a family member, and animals can help promote positive development in children. In fact, pets have been found to play a human-like role throughout the owner's lifetime, she believes.


Read also: How do we measure a horse’s personality?

To gain a better understanding of attachment gained by interacting with horses, researchers have now launched a study among more than 3,000 horse owners. They hope that this can help uncover the psychological benefits we gain from interacting with horses. In addition, the researchers hope that, in the long run, it can give us insight into how attachment affects the horse's performance and welfare. Stephanie Evans presented this information at the 2022 International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) conference, held August 9-12 in Hartpury.

Conditions for attachment

Whether it's humans or animals, attachment occurs between two individuals when the following conditions are met:

• The relationship must serve as a secure base where the parties can find comfort and protection.

• Both must exhibit closeness, they thrive best by being physically close to each other.

• The balance between the urge to explore and the need for security and closeness is central to the quality of the relationship.

Previous research has developed various scales to determine the degree of attachment between humans and pets. These studies have mostly focused on cats and dogs and have included characteristics that do not apply to horses. It is probably the minority of horse owners who share a bed with their horse, so there is a need for a specially developed model for horses, says Stephanie Evans.

Evans and her co-researchers (Richard Corrigan, PhD, from the University of Cumbria; David Marlin, PhD, from AnimalWeb, and Jane Williams, PhD, MSc, PGCertLTHE, CertEd, VN, from Hartpury University) reviewed seven different questionnaires currently being used to measure attachment between humans and animals. They found that the questions could be adapted in various ways to better describe the relationship between horses and humans. They then added things that were unique to horse owners – especially the financial investments and all the time spent with the horses – something that does not often apply to relationships with cats, dogs, or other humans.

Their final questionnaire contained 25 questions that participants could answer on a scale from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree". More than 3,600 horse owners in the UK participated in the study.

Based on the responses, the researchers determined the six most important factors needed to assess the bond between humans and horses:

The six most important factors

• A sense of friendship: trust, love, and motivation are gained from the relationship with the horse, and it leans on attachment theory as a secure base.

• A sense of personal well-being. By being with the horse, we gain a sense of physical and psychological well-being and the joy of being with the horse.

• A level of dependence on the horse. Can you, as the owner, be separated from the horse and potentially, how much grief and stress would it cause?

• The amount of significance that the ownership of the horse brings. To what extent are you willing to go for your horse, based on the importance it has in your life?

• A perception of personal growth through interactions with the horse.

• Personal and financial sacrifices. How much are you willing to sacrifice, personally and financially, to own your horse?

The results of the study showed that the new tool, called the "Human-Equine Attachment Scale" (HEAS), is a "coherent and psychologically robust measure of attachment between humans and horses," Stephanie Evans explained.

"This study has helped us develop and validate a scale that can demonstrate the attachment owners form with their horses. It can be used as a basis for further research on the benefits of attachment and improving the bond between horses and humans in the future," she added.


Read also: A good temperament is the most important thing

Jane Williams, research leader, lecturer, and co-author of the report, agrees. "We feel that the development of HEAS is a much-needed first step. It is a tool that can be used to assess the relationships people have with their horses. This knowledge can provide insight into what a positive partnership consists of. It can help understand how horse owners can make good or bad decisions, which ultimately can affect the well-being of horses and humans," Jane Williams explained.

"Our next step is to use the HEAS tool across different disciplines and rider groups to evaluate their relationships with their horses. This can help build a scientifically documented database and establish which key characteristics should be highlighted to ensure the social and emotional bonds between horses and humans," Jane Williams concluded.


Stephanie Evans, International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) conference (9th-12th of august 2022 in Hartpury, Great Britain).


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