from the Vet Corner Archives

Part of Horse Previews Magazine website. Posted on 03/05/99; 2:00:00PM.


Veterinary Corner 3/99: Understanding The Bond between Horses & People

by Frosty Franklin, DVM
Edgecliff Equine Hospital
S. 1322 Park Road, Spokane, WA 99212 * 509/924-6069


As an equine practitioner, I recognize my most important role is to help my clients meet the health needs of their horse companions. My job, however, does not end with providing high quality medical care. My role also includes ensuring that the bond between horse and family is strengthened. Now, what do I mean by "strengthen the bond?"

The animal-human bond is not a new idea. Each of us can remember a special horse, cat, dog, or other animal that holds a special place in our heart. When we think of this animal we are reminded about how strong the human-animal bond can be. How does the attachment between person and animal become so intense? Anything that ensures happy, healthy, and well-adjusted animals will strengthen this bond. Advances in equine medicine, excellent feed mixes, safe fencing, affordable and durable shelters, excellent, easy to use deworming products, and advanced training methods are all ingredients of a successful relationship between horse and owner. More recently, another ingredient has become available which will greatly improve the bond we have with our horses. I strongly recommend that all horse owners look into getting insurance for their equine companions. It is a relatively inexpensive way to ensure that financial concerns will not play a role in providing quality care during a major illness or serious accident. So often, when illness or accident strikes, we are unprepared. We want to do everything to help our horse recover, however, many times we have to think with our checkbooks instead of our hearts. Major medical insurance can provide peace of mind in times of stress. For many people, though, the bond goes further than just providing for an animal's needs.

Something mysteriously powerful and magical exists between horse and human. Those who have experienced this bond understand what it is truly all about. Perhaps your family went on a trail ride during a summer vacation allowing you to be close to a horse for only a short time. Or maybe you are fortunate enough to own a horse and have an ongoing relationship. Whatever your situation, by personally experiencing this attachment you can appreciate the intensity of the emotions and feelings exchanged between horse and person as the two become a single unit. Once the connection is made, the human perspective changes from viewing the horse simply as an animal into something far more complex. Instead, they view these majestic animals as friends, emotional healers, substitutes for children, or wonderful companions. The intensity of this attachment varies greatly among individuals, but many aspects of the bond remain the same.

Horses are intensely social animals by nature and are predisposed to having social relationships. Unlike horses in the wild, domestic horses are wholly dependent upon us for their survival, comfort, and well being. Like people, horses have physical and emotional needs. After you nourish their needs, the animals begin to view you as a companion and leader. As soon as the horse identifies you as his companion and leader, he will work with you out of respect.

This relationship usually begins when people touch, groom, and pamper their horse. Grooming has a pleasurable calming effect on horses, cementing a trusting bond between horse and person. Scratching and petting play an important role in training horses, gaining their trust, and communicating praise. Horses are very receptive to the messages conveyed to them by people, therefore communicating confidence and trust is extremely important. Trust is quite a substantial aspect of the horse-human relationship because it allows the horse to utilize you as a secure base from which to explore the world and as a safe haven in times of stress.

People benefit in many ways from these strong human-horse relationships. The soft nicker of a welcoming horse can only warm your heart and put a smile on you face. It makes you feel needed and special because your horse is excited to see you. Horses are loyal, reliable, consistent, sensitive and reactive to our emotions. Horses are particularly beneficial for children because they provide a sense of responsibility, comfort, companionship, and may play a crucial role in the emotional development of the child. Children can often love and trust pets before they can have similar feelings for adults because the animals satisfy the need for physical contact without the fear of the emotional involvement that occurs in contact with people. Horses are an excellent sounding board because they are sympathetic, nonjudgmental listener with whom a person can openly display their raw emotions without the fear of criticism. They can also contribute to the overall sense of family well being by becoming a common point of interest among family members, thereby drawing the family together. They give us a sense of control and a feeling of success when we are training and riding them.

In our modern chaotic society there is a genuine need for animals as companions. These bonds relieve the damaging effects of loneliness and isolation and are a quick fix for a bad day. When I am reminded of a special horse from my past, my day becomes brighter and my mood quickly improves. It is important to consider the bond that people have with their horses and I feel this is a wonderful part of my role as equine veterinarian.

Warmest Regards and Happy Trails,

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