Do Horses Bond Like People Do? by Claire Dorotik MA

Human attachments are a complex business. For one thing, when two people come together, they are often unaware of just what it is about one another that creates the attraction. On the other hand, when we are repelled by another person, identifying what about them bothers us is not the problem, yet why this behavior or characteristic infuriates us is quite another matter. But in the world of psychology, categorizing attachments styles has shed much light into the complexities of relationships. Now enter horses. When a horse and a person meet, are horses prone to the same types of attachments that people are? That is to say, can we actually classify their relationships with us or one another into categories the way we do with people?

Looking in the matter further, some established horsemen have attempted to do just that. Pat Parelli, (, one of the forerunners of the natural horse movement, promulgates what he calls “horsenality types.” Using a pie chart with related descriptions, Parelli breaks down horses’ personalities into four basic types, right brain introvert, right brain extrovert, left brain introvert, and left brain extrovert.

On the other side of the coin, some equine therapy programs attempt to address attachment styles of participants through the horse’s responses to them. One prominent one, Gestalt Equine Therapy (, addresses this topic by using congruence levels of people — as reflected by the horse’s willingness to be near them — to determine secure, vs. insecure attachments styles. The idea is that when a person is experiencing congruence, his/her attachment style can be said to be secure. While this approach can be quite revealing about the participants attachment style, the horse’s attachment style is not taken into consideration.

It is true that no two horses are the same. What may be upsetting to one may be of no significance to another. And within this spectrum of behavior, is the horse’s particular way of bonding. Like people, attachments in horses can be ascertained through a few short experiments. For example, taking two horses who are well bonded into an unfamiliar setting, and then removing one horse while observing the one who remains, will help delineate how this horse attaches. Does he become anxious when his friend leaves? Is he easily calmed by the presence of another (unfamiliar) horse? And then when his equine friend returns, is he angry, or is he easily calmed by him?

Using this test, horses will demonstrate distinct and different responses, just as people do. Where people can be categorized as having secure attachments, or insecure-anxious, insecure-avoidant, and insecure-disorganized, horses will also demonstrate responses that can be indicative of these classifications. Then when horse and human meet, they are both exposed to the particular attachment style of one another. And just as with human relationships, people are largely unaware of just why they are attracted to one specific horse over another. Perhaps it is that horse offers the person a way of attaching that is well suited to his/her own specific style. Like two pieces of a puzzle, a bond is formed, and the needs of both are met therein.

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