The Potential of Human-Horse Attachment in Creating Favorable Settings for Professional Care: A Study of Adolescents' Visit to a Farm

Animals (Basel). 2020 Sep 21;10(9):1707. doi: 10.3390/ani10091707.


Previous research has shown features of an attachment bond to be fulfilled in, for instance, human-dog dyads; however, there is a considerable lack of research on the potential attachment in human-horse relationships. Employing Bowlby's criteria of an attachment bond and Pierce's model of therapeutically powerful activity, this article studies whether short-term exposure to horses brings about elements of emerging attachment for adolescents and if this interaction holds potential in creating a favorable early-stage setting for professional care. It draws from group discussions carried out with nine 16-17-year-old adolescents who participated in an EASEL (Equine-Assisted Social and Emotional Learning) session when visiting a farm with a youth worker. A qualitative content analysis of the discussions revealed that some characteristics of the four principal criteria of an attachment bond-proximity maintenance, safe haven, secure base, and separation distress-were identifiable in the adolescents' expressed experiences of observing and interacting with horses. Moreover, the three main sources of therapeutic power-appeal, accuracy, and intactness-intersected with the emerging development of the adolescents' attachment to horses. Additionally, space for self-reflection was enhanced by the presence of the horses. The study offers insights into the potential of human-horse attachment in dealing with adolescents with and without special needs for various therapy and care purposes.

Keywords: adolescent; attachment; equine-assisted therapies; human-horse relations; professional care.