The Horse-Human Bond: Man’s (Other) Best Friend
You’re likely to leave the stable with a new skill and a new friend. Read on to learn more about the powerful bond between humans and horses.
Humans have been riding horses since the first bus broke down around 3,500 BC, but the full extent of the intraspecies connection is only beginning to come to light. Anecdotal stories of deep friendships between horses and humans abound, but studies suggest that horses really do form long-term bonds with humans with whom they’ve had positive encounters. In fact, horses can recognize their human friends months or even years after seeing them last.
Horses are naturally social animals, forming lifelong friendships with horses inside and outside their own families. This affable nature, combined with an impeccable sense of hearing, puts horses in a unique position to respond to human communication and even memorize human words. Trainers frequently talk in soothing tones to their horses, but much of the bonding occurs through nonverbal interaction: horses also get to know humans through daily grooming, feedings, and long, quiet rides into the sunset. Many longtime riders report feeling deeply attuned to their horses, both physically and emotionally.
Though not fully understood, the ineffable bond between humans and horses has spawned numerous equine-therapy programs. During these programs, people with mental illnesses or physical disabilities interact with horses through basic grooming and riding. Besides the unique physical benefits of riding—such as gaining core strength as they balance on a horse—these patients often experience an emotional release or a new sense of pride and accomplishment.