If you board your horse or are forced to be apart from them for any reason, you know what it feels like to miss your best friend. Their smell, their cute little nuzzles, and the freedom that comes with riding—it’s hard to stay away for a single day, let alone an extended amount of time. But how does your horse feel? Do horses miss their owners in the same way we miss them? Do they even register our absence? Or do they only like us because of the food and attention we provide?
Without speaking the same language, it’s impossible to know for sure what your horse thinks or feels. Every horse is different, and every horse/human relationship is different, but science can give us hints at what’s going on in your horse’s mind.
The Bond Between Horses and Humans
Horses and humans have been working together for centuries. Those relationships haven’t always been as positive as the one you share with your herd, but being around humans is nothing new to most horses. Humans breed horses for specific purposes, and after all this time, domesticated horses have come to rely on us. We’re the ones who bring them food, but it’s often about more than survival. Research suggests that horses also depend on the friendship we can provide.
A 2012 study was one of the first to suggest horses are capable of recognizing specific humans. Research involving 32 horses showed that in most scenarios, horses have the ability to match a familiar person’s face with their voice. When the horses heard a familiar voice played through a loudspeaker, they could recognize that familiar sound and looked toward the human it belonged to. This evidence suggests that horses don’t think all people are the same. They’re capable of distinguishing between different humans, and behavior suggests they even pick out their favorites.
Part of the Routine
Even if your horse can tell you apart from other humans who might come around, do they miss you when you’re gone? Whether your horse is in a pasture 24/7 or is turned out for only part of the day, they learn to rely on their routines. They don’t tell time in the same way we do, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know what’s going on.
Has your horse ever been the one to remind you that it’s past dinner time? Or do they start stomping in their stall when they know it’s about time to go out? That’s because they’ve become accustomed to a certain routine. And while their main focus might be food or fun, you’re also part of that routine.
Your horse gets used to seeing your specific face, hearing your particular voice, and putting up with your unique behaviors. So when that routine is disrupted, you can bet your horse takes notice.
Missing an Emotional Connection
If you usually visit the barn to spend quality time with your horse, there’s a good chance your horse has grown used to your company. Every relationship is different, but if you feel like you have a strong bond with your horse, your horse most likely feels the same way.
Anyone can throw out some hay. Your horse might not care that someone else is doing the everyday chores. But research suggests they will take notice if they miss out on the emotional connection they’re used to. Some horses come to rely on their owners for comfort, and that connection can’t easily be replaced.
If you’re missing your horse, there’s a good chance they’re missing you too. Once you’re part of their routine, they’ll notice when you’re absent. It’s unclear whether or not they can make the conscious connection between your absence and their altered routine, but they do know that something is different.