Optimising horse–human relationships can promote positive experiences and advance the welfare and safety of both dyad members. Attachment and bonding are key components in such relationships, and horses are good candidate subjects for studying bonding processes due to their social nature, artificial selection for trainability and their dependence on human care in a domestic context. However, the factors that contribute to successful relationships remain unclear.
This preliminary study on 12 horses investigated whether horses develop an attachment bond with their trainer after a short period of frequent interactions. The study also aimed to explore how the type of training method (negative reinforcement and two types of combined reinforcement) may affect the horse–human relationship and how this manifests as ease of handling in a novel environment.
The horses showed reduced reactions in both the fear test (encountering novel objects with the trainer and a stranger present while moving freely) and handling test (encountering novel objects while being led by the trainer versus a stranger) after training compared to before training. However, we could not provide conclusive evidence that horse–human relationships established during training constitute an attachment. Suggestions for future studies are provided.
Link to publication
Hartmann, E., Rehn, T., Christensen, J.W., Nielsen, P.P., McGreevy, P. 2021. From the horse’s perspective: investigating attachment behaviour and the effect of training method on fear reactions and ease of handling—a pilot study. Animals, 11, 457.