Perhaps once upon a time, there used to be girls and boys who had wished for a pony. They wanted to be with an animal that they could care for, but also be comforted by. And it is a bonus if they can ride like the wind or into the sunset, like any other fairy tale.
Yet the reality of the human-horse owner relationship in the equestrian industry is very beneficial to the mental, physical, and emotional health.
Research shows that the equestrian industry’s cultivation of the human-horse ownership has a lot of benefits. For the horses, they have a companion for the long run, one who takes care of them physically. For the owners, they have a best friend who will heal them emotionally, nourish them mentally, and keep them physically fit.
The Human and Horse Relationship
Pet and owner relationships are sacred, because it goes beyond give-and-take. Unlike human transactions where there is a sense of equality, being a pet owner needs more unconditional love. Another being depends on your love and understanding. Sometimes they cannot express themselves fully; other times, the owner is unable to fully respond back.
These relationships supposedly materialize the phenomenon anthropomorphism—the tendency of people to attribute human emotion and motivation onto an animal’s action. Regardless if this is exactly what a pet—be it a dog, a cat, or a horse—truly feels, people tend to establish a closer emotional bond because of it.
Because they live and interact with horses on a regular basis, owners understand that horses have personality and pet peeves, just like them. This supports research that horses also experience stresses of daily life, including difficulty in learning, getting insufficient rewards, and dealing with harsh training.
The Human Element of the Equine Industry
Owning a horse goes beyond mere caretaking. On a global scale, the equine industry is considered to be one of the biggest, as it involves various countries and continents, accumulating to impact billions of dollars and generate millions of full-time jobs.
This is successful only because of the deep cultivation of human-horse relationships. For societies that have a horse-riding background and tendency, such as the Anglo-American communities, nurturing this relationship is the key towards better performance in both competition and recreational horseback riding.
Thus, some horse owners do not only deal with the figures and statistics when it comes to dealing with their horses. For as much as cooperation needs to be fully practiced between horse and human, the most important aspect for successfully caring for the horse is understanding from its owner.
Riders need to be physically and mentally fit to handle horseback riding as a sport. Yet a good deal of it depends also on the horse’s personality, and how well the owner is able to manage and deal with it.
How Horses Help People
For some, the equine industry may be seen as more of a chore than a fun recreation. However, like other pet owners, most horseback riders fully appreciate this bond and understand that this is one investment that does not rely merely on returns.
Yet the amazing part is that, even if the investment is not entirely the main goal, being a horse owner has benefits that exceed the figures. Research has shown that the equine bond between a horse and its owner benefits the latter in many ways, reflecting or perhaps exceeding the value of the time and resources that owners spend on their equine companion.
Here are just some of the ways by which horses unwittingly help their human owners in life.
- Emotional Healing of Wounds
Horse owners may be more sensitive in telling their horse’s current disposition, but it is just as fascinating that horses can also tell their owners’ feelings. A study conducted on 28 horses reveals that they can perceive positive from negative emotions by looking at human facial expressions.
When coupled with heart rate detecting instruments, researchers found that horses associated negative stimuli with a faster heart rate. However, they had a weaker reaction when viewing positive emotions, which is a similar reaction that dogs have when reading the facial expressions of their owners.
In some cases, this allows horses to also mirror back specific feelings to their owners. Equine therapy allows horses to aid individuals in rehabilitation. Because horses are part of a herd, they are able to mirror emotions, feed off others’ current condition, and bring it back to the surface, for the other to see and feel. This is an important step in psychotherapy, which brings catharsis and realization for the horse owner.
- Remove Stress Through Physical Care
At first glance, caring for a horse may appear to be quite a stressful experience. Horses are big creatures, some of whom have unpredictable temperaments. Yet research has shown that looking after horses, as well as riding them, helps ease many stresses.
In a study of 130 teenagers who took part in a 12-week school horsemanship course, they found that the participants who played with the horses while caring for them had significantly lower levels of stress hormones than those who did not. This suggests that caring for horses can reduce stress, but enjoying the process adds a significant layer of protection for one’s tendency for stress.
Additionally, another study found that there is a possibility that the immune system can be strengthened, heart rate variability increased, and self-esteem improved through equine-facilitated learning. In a way, all pet owners experience the same phenomenon of benefiting even when they are the ones caring for their pets.
- Improved Cognitive and Physical Abilities
On its own, horseback riding is an activity that trains one’s athletic abilities. Riding a horse is no easy feat—you have to be in tune with your horse, while exercising agility, awareness, coordination, balance, and control, among others.
In addition to all of these, research has shown that starting horseback riding early can greatly improve children’s cognitive learning abilities later in life. Specifically, after riding horses, children were able to perform behavioral tasks better.
This may be related to increasing their heartrate, which is one of the things that contribute to cognitive abilities. These skills supposedly improve learning, memory, and problem-solving, especially when horseback riding becomes a habit.
- Help With Mental Health and Other Conditions
As in other therapy, equine-assisted therapy manages to work wonders for other people with specific conditions. For instance, speech conditions have greatly benefited from horse-assisted therapy. This is because patients are engaged, are more alert, and are more receptive to processing various thoughts and emotions during therapy.
When it comes to one’s psychological health, a horse’s ability to mirror one’s temperament allows the person to see what they are feeling. In doing so, the unspoken feelings surface, letting them process it further towards a resolution.
Giving Back: Caring For Horses Wholeheartedly
Caring for horses is pretty much also an investment in one’s own development. This is why it is common to hear stories of owners showering luxuries on horses, or obtaining all kinds of services just to ensure that they get the best care for their horses.
For some horse owners, they provide only the best products for caring for their horses. All-natural balms and oils help soothe horses, especially the ones who are sensitive to smells and textures. Others even expose their horses to therapy, because they understand that stressful conditions can highly impact the temperament of horses.
The relationship between horses and people is built on trust, love, and openness. While caring for a pet has its own ups and downs, the real benefits are almost unquantifiable in their return.