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Scientists: Horses and Humans Have a Special Bond

Horses are flight and pack animals driven by instincts which they use basically to survive. It is often this biologist perspective around horses, but scientists have now investigated whether horses and humans establish a special connection.  

Something seems like they do. 

Horses are not only instincts  

You have probably experienced your horse cuddling and seeking safety around you if it becomes insecure or afraid of something. Until know most research has centred around the human aspect and connection with the horse, but not so much the other way around. Now it is time for the impact on horses being around humans all the time. To find out if horses react when the owner leaves it and how the horse behave when it is put in an uncertain situation.  

Why the investigation will come in handy 

Three scientists all from Linköping University is behind the research. They decided to figure out if horses show a special attachment towards horses. There is four aspects to consider when working with attachment:  

  • – Proximity seeking (preferring to be near the human); 
  • – Safe haven (relief from stress due to the comfort and support provided by the person); 
  • – Secure base (increased exploration due to feeling safe); and 
  • – Separation distress (feeling distressed in the absence of the attachment figure). 

The scientists explain that trust from a horse towards humans can help reducing arousal’s in frightening situations. In other words, a close connection between humans and horses develop the training in a positive way, because the horse knows that it can count on the owner to help it in a scary setting. 

This is how they did it 

The team had all in all 26 horses for their experiment. 14 mares and 12 geldings. The experiment took place in an indoor arena most of the horses were already familiar with.  

The practical matters  

The separation-reunion experiment involved a protocol in which the owner walked the horse on a lead rope around the arena for three minutes. They then walked to a spot in the middle of the arena and stood there for a minute with the horse on a loose lead rope. The owner then left the arena and was out of sight from the horse for two minutes, before returning for the reunion phase. Following a 15-minute break away from the arena, the same protocol was repeated with a person who was a stranger to the horse. 

The results of the experiment  

The results showed that the horses spent more time near the arena door when separated from both the owner and the stranger when compared to the reunion phase. They also sought human closeness during reunion, both with the owner and stranger. The horses’ heart rates were higher during the separation compared to the reunion with both the owner and the stranger, suggesting that the horses were distressed when left alone. These results can be examples of attachment-related features and suggest that horses consider both the owner and the stranger as a safe place. Though, the experiment illustrates a connection between horses and humans, an interesting aspect is the fact that the horses also showed the same amount of attachment whether it was the owner or stranger entering the reunion phase. 

More research on this field is necessary 

The experiment is not a large research with several horses and owners involved and therefore it is a clear advice from the research team that this matter should be investigated even more in the future. Perhaps with a focus on different types of training which might also influence the attachment between horses and humans, the team believes.  

If you want to read more about the experiment you can find it here

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