Do horses love their owners?

BILL— Okay, after a number of fits and starts I am ready to take a swing at this one.

Love is:

  1. a) a gold mine
  2. b) a two way street
  3. c) a battlefield
  4. d) in the eye of the beholder.

All the answers that apply to relationships between people allow us to see if both respondents come to the same conclusion. That might be one good indicator that love is involved. That measure is less readily available when we are talking people and their companion pets.

I don’t think we need to argue if your pet hermit crab loves you. Or your goldfish. But when we get to mammals, clearly something is going on. The caution flag that starts to wave centers on anthropomorphizing, the degree to which it’s valid to attribute human characteristics or behavior to (a god, animal, or object) as in people’s tendency to anthropomorphize their dogs.

Let’s stay with dogs for a moment. As I write this, in fact, Alan is draped across my lap. He put himself there and he seems quite blissful. I feed him, of course, so he is aware of that dependency, but he also accepts me as part of his “pack,” at times even as its leader. Is this love?

When it comes to our horses, we can ask the same questions. I often wonder what would happen if we were able to remove the barriers—stabling, pastures—which limit our constant close physical interaction with our horses (unlike with our dogs).

Some horses have a fairly superficial relationship with their owners. With others there is clearly a special chemistry… the way they look into your eyes and rest their head on your shoulder, the nicker which they have only for you, the way they move underneath you if they feel you losing your balance, the way they will try for you unlike for anyone else.

Some behavioralists will attribute all this to other than love, but they may not know anymore than we do. Never fall into the trap of “He loves me so he’ll never run away with me.” That’s probably a step too far. But whatever you call it, if your horse reciprocates the feelings you have for him, love is as good a word for it as any.