The Bond Between A Horse And His Rider

Many riders believe that they have a special bond with their horses, and they are right. Many horses and their riders enter a state of “Co-Being.” Co-being is a relationship in which each partner evolves to fit better with the other party, physically and mentally. Recent studies say that horses and riders will actually attune to each other in order to “fit” better together.

Anita Maurstad, PhD professor and researcher in the Department of Cultural Sciences in Tromso University Museum of Tromso in Norway, says that “as riders get to know their horses, they attune to them. They learn both mental and physical ways of acting versus their partner. Horse too attune to their humans; thus co-being is a good analytically concept for speaking about these aspects of the relationship.”

Maurstad worked with other American researchers Dona Davis, PhD, and Sarah Cowles, both of the University of South Dakota’s Department of Anthropology and Sociology, to better understand the effect of working with horses. They interviewed 60 male and female riders in North America and Norway of varying disciplines, asking questions about how the relationship they had with their horse effected them personally. Their answers led the researchers to consider the concept of co-being “as a vital element to understanding the relationship,” Maurstad said. She also adds that “their answers focus on actions and inter-actions with real consequences for both parties.”

This goes past the “mirror theory” that stats that horses are a reflection of their owners. Maurstad says that “(co-being riders) get to know their horses as personalities through ongoing process of deep engagement. They see horses as different personalities, both in the sense of horses being different individually, and being different personalities from themselves, the humans. Riders do not see horses as passive reflections of themselves.”

This also aligns with the “nature-culture” theory that says that nature and culture, for some, cannot be viewed as individuals but as one. Many believe that human-horse interaction is not natural; even though co-being with a human is not completely natural in the “horse world,” it is however very positive for both parties and does fit in the nature-culture theory. Maurstad also says that “the horses in our study have learned to live with humans, consistent with their nature-culture, horses lead their lives partly with humans, partly with other horses, learning as individuals how to relate in ways that provides them with good quality of life. As our study shows, horses are partners in pairs, and their physical and mental well-being is something that riders care for. This, I believe, is good for the horse, good for this particular nature-culture species, and not in opposition to their nature.”

Humans learn to act and communicate in ways that work with their horse; in return the horse also learns ways to please his rider. Physically, each learn new ways to adapt to the other in unique ways; sometimes even forming unique muscles to be able to move more in synch with the other. Maurstad and her colleagues stated in their study, “(Humans) are balancing according to a feel of the other, the horse, attuning their bodies to sensations of the horse bodies. Action and response between the species bring about riding as a collaborative practice, where bodies become in sync. And sync is a product of interaction in that both are changed through a process of training from the meeting between the two – literally flesh to flesh.” She also says that a relationship like this takes time and lots of interaction between the two.

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