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Ask anyone who works with dogs and horses, most will say that horses are less stressful because they don’t worry about where their owner has gone. Typically dogs stress and worry about where their owners have gone, when they are coming back and can lack trust in the person who is looking after them. Whereas most horses don’t care that their owner is not there, or who you are, as long as they are fed and looked after at the time they normally are.
Recent study in horse attachment behaviour
Well this idea that horse’s don’t miss their owners the same way a dog does has recently been confirmed by a study published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science. The study observed 26 horses and how they reacted to their owners and strangers. In the experiment the horses were left alone in a stable before either their owner, or the stranger coming back.
When the person left, the horses heartrate increased, suggesting a level of stress about being left alone. But when the person returned, the heartrate decreased, suggesting that the horse felt safe around people. However, there was no significant difference in the horses reaction between the owner and stranger, suggesting that horses are equally comfortable with strangers as they are their owners.
Horse v Dog Relationship
I found the results of this study very interesting as we all assume our horses are more comfortable with us than they are with strangers. But it sounds like this simply isn’t the case and we are putting these ideas onto our horses.
I wonder if part of this is that while horses view humans as a safe place, they still prefer the company of other horses. Whereas many dogs appear to prefer the company of their owners to other dogs. This could be because from a young age dogs are surrounded by humans, often going to their new owners at 8 weeks old. To them, humans are their pack.
While horses are also around humans from a young age, they have much less contact time. Most horses probably spend 3 hours a day max with their owners/handlers and the rest with other horses.