Of Women and Horses — Where is the Data?
Much has been written about the connection between women and horses, and for some time, it has certainly mystified us. While people can be attracted to a great many things in life, the relationship women and horses share is not only better represented than many other things women may do (perhaps the sad exception is dieting), it also holds a symbolism in the possibility of a curative force amongst us. Historically, we have always searched for something to relive suffering, eradicate pain, provide spiritual ecstasy in one form or another.
For many indigenous cultures, this may have been peyote, for others, hallucinogens (Oliver Sacks speaks of this), and for women, perhaps horses have a ecstasy-like effect. The question would then be, do women, in fact, achieve a form of spiritual elevation by way of the horse? Further, like induced states of ecstasy, could this be measured physiologically (ie: is there a chemical response that women experience in the presence of the horse)?
There is an interesting answer to this question in the research of Ellen Kaye Gehrke, Ph.D, a consultant and professor of international business and management. Gehrke used EKG measures to collect Heart Rate Variability (HRV) data on both horses and humans in different stages of interaction. At times, Gehrke, using herself as a test subject was grooming her horses, at other times, riding them, and sometimes, simply being in their presence. Gehrke’s data showed that HRV, which is an indication of psychological stress, followed a similar pattern between horses and humans, and and particularly strong between a horse and a person with whom that horse is closely attached. Interestingly, this pattern was also noticed between pairs of horses that are closely attached.
According to Gehrke,“Our pilot studies have clearly indicated that human emotion affects the state of the horse,” she says. “Our next study will be more complex. In the first phase, three horses and 12 humans will interact variously in human/horse pairs within a 40-minute protocol and HRV data will be collected. Then, the 12 human participants will receive training which includes specific positive emotional focusing techniques. They will practice “emotional-shifting” and “coherence-building” for four weeks prior to the second data collection. It is anticipated that the second set of data will show a specific and measurable change in the humans’ HRV patterns, which will be reflected in the horses’ HRV patterns. HRV patterns that are synchronized in a horse/human pair indicate a greater psycho-physiological linkage between them. In plain English, that means a stronger bond.”
While there has always been anecdotal evidence that “there is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man,” with research such as Gehrke’s it may finally have some solid empirical evidence. More information about Gehrke’s work can be found at www.rollinghorse.com
Woman kissing her horse photo available from Shutterstock
Dorotik-Nana, C. (2013). Of Women and Horses — Where is the Data?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 28, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/equine-therapy/2013/02/of-women-and-horses-where-is-the-data/