Many people know that investing time in a relationship reaps countless rewards, but what kind of activities build relationships between horses and their caretakers? What does research say about the horse-human relationship and how can science be used to maximise that bond?
The horse-human relationship is an important part of equestrianism. Many riders think of this as a partnership and training is often orientated towards achieving a sense of harmony. Equines are considered to be very perceptive of their handlers and equestrians are commonly motivated in achieving a sense of affinity with the horse. So, how well attuned are horses and their handlers? What motivates equestrians, on a psychological level, to persevere in this relationship and what do they gain from it?
In comparison to feral horses, the range of behaviours exhibited by domestic horses has been substantially reduced. Domestic environments are less stimulating and present fewer opportunities for a horse to express its natural behaviour. However, providing environmental enrichment can encourage the horse to increase its expression of behaviours and also prevent abnormal behaviours.
Group living and social interaction are important for horses. The benefits of herd living have been widely studied, particularly in relation to security and fight or flight behaviour, but how important is group cohesion to horses and how do they maintain it?