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Of Horse and Human: What’s Behind the Bond?

equine therapyPeople, for centuries, have been drawn to horses. Their power, grace, and mystique has not escaped the attention of thousands who are otherwise unfamiliar, as horse racing, in particular, has consistently drawn national attention. Additionally, the development of our relationship with horses has symbolized many societal changes.

From the beginning, horses were used solely for work related tasks, such as plowing fields, transportation, and military conquests. At this time, little attention was paid to their welfare, and consequently, little more than rudimentary efforts were expected of them. However, as equines immersed into a multitude of cultures, and their unique qualities became more evident, they began to be looked at differently.

With the realization of what more could be accomplished with horses, their societal value rose, as did the concern for their welfare. Soon horse racing evolved and shortly thereafter, a well stocked stable was considered a sign of wealth.

With horses evidencing wealth and stature, the exploration of just what it is about horses that provides this feeling soon emerged. Certainly, various theories came to the forefront, and while each one was somewhat different they were not separated in their belief that horses offer humans emotional wellness. Yet the question remained, what really constitutes the bond that horses and humans share?

There is a moment, known to all horse owners when, for one reason or another, a person is indescribably drawn to a horse. The person feels something, and no question remains that this is the horse. Housed in this physiological reaction, the needs of the person intersect, instantly, with the needs of the horse. Right then, without understanding consciously what is happening, it is felt between the horse and human.

Each knows that that his or her needs are understood by the other, and will be met. Maybe it is that the horse needs nurturance, and the person needs to feel valued, and in that instant, there is a physiological reaction that is shared. Both are calmed, reassured, and contained, yet all the while, not exactly knowing why. This is something you will hear all horse owners talk about, using words, like, “I just get this horse,” or “Something about this horse draws me to him.”

But is it true that certain breeds or certain horses attract certain people? Could we say then that some people are Quarter horse people, and some people are Lipizzan people? To be sure, the breeds of horses, just like cultures of people are very different. While Thoroughbreds are known for being sensitive and reactive, Andalusians are known for their quiet and consistent nature. Would this then mean that people who are drawn to Thoroughbreds are very calming, and patient, and those who are drawn to Quarter horses, a less reactive and sensitive breed, are more insecure, and unrestrained themselves?

If this were the case, we could even begin to classify people according to the breeds of horses they were drawn to. Some people would be indicated to be more containing, nurturing, and patient, while others would look for these qualities in those around them. It would also then be true that the same qualities people look for in horses, would also attract them in human relationships. In this case the relationships developed with horses would be a metaphor for the human interactions present in the person’s life.

More often than not, this is exactly the case. What we expect and need from others does not change whether our partner has four legs or two. And consequently what we are drawn to in others remains consistent as well. So consider this the next time you feel indescribably drawn to a horse, or human: What is it I am needing right now, and what do I feel this animal, or person offers me?

Photo by Mike Baird of Morro Bay, CA, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.

Of Horse and Human: What’s Behind the Bond?

Claire Dorotik-Nana, LMFT

Claire Dorotik-Nana LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in post-traumatic growth, leveraging adversity, and other epic human achievements. Claire has written multiple continuing education courses for Professional Development Resources, Zur Institute, and International Sport Science Association. Claire has also authored multiple books, including:
Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards and On The Back Of A Horse: Harnessing The Healing Power Of The Human-Equine Bond. For more information about Leveraging Adversity or Claire, visit

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APA Reference
Dorotik-Nana, C. (2011). Of Horse and Human: What’s Behind the Bond?. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 2, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Feb 2011
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