Humans and horses

Based on the book 'I cavalli di Federico', written by the Italian ethologist Dr. Paolo Baragli


  • #horsemanship
  • #equine science

Horses have been beside us for more than 5,000 years but despite this, our affection towards this species is still somewhat turbulent. It seems that there is still some way to go to get to know each other better. The crucial point is that while horses are quite happy by themselves, running free through nature, mankind apparently simply cannot do without them close by.
Of course the start of this relationship must have been traumatic for the horse, given that our ancestors first considered it as a source of food. The passage of time however has witnessed, as we all know, a different evolution. The horse has become an indispensable means of transport, an irreplaceable source of energy, useful for work and has contributed decisively to the progress of humanity. It has enabled us to greatly increase our ability to move over land, both in peacetime and in war, giving us the ability to travel quickly. Can you imagine the Roman Empire without horses? What would it have conquered? At most the house courtyard ... And then, would Marco Polo's travels have been possible without horses? Give it some thought, would we now be in the age of the Internet and nanotechnology without these animals? Over time, the possible uses of the horse have evolved, have expanded and have been modified. The horse has acquired a dual status, remaining a source of food and a working animal. In Western society work has become the main role and the horse has become primarily an instrument of leisure and sport, giving rise to a veritable industry, becoming an important source of income for agriculture and for sport, and, last but not least, it has acquired importance as a therapeutic support for people with mental and/or motor impairment and as a co-educator.
​Art lovers know that the horse is the animal most represented in the different artistic expressions. What about show business and film? In short, not only has the horse accompanied us throughout history but it can be found all around us, in a multiple series of situations and contexts that are unrivalled compared to other species, and that includes the dog ...

This wide variety of roles that the horse has assumed in our society has meant that the type of people who come into close contact and interact with it is extremely different. There are those who relate with the horse in their scope of work and that therefore develop with it a relationship linked to professional activities: horse riders, breeders, grooms, vets, farriers etc. while others instead experience horses from a purely emotional perspective, as if it were an actual family member. Others even experience the emotions that the horse is able to transmit through amateur sporting activities.
​Each of these categories is related to a different kind of interaction. Horses create a relationship with people who are closest to them and who interact more with them. What is a relationship? In general a relationship is defined as a progressive link between two partners; for both, this relationship creates an expectation in terms of the responses from the other person. The relationship with the horse, however, is essentially different from what is established between people because it is a relationship between two different species, that is between individuals who have a perceptual world, a way of interacting with the environment and a different way of communicating with each other and, of course, each with equally different biological needs. Yet there is no doubt that we humans communicate with horses, given that we ride them, race them and take them with us ... But are we sure we are communicating in the right way? Do you ever find that your horse displays inexplicable behaviour or does something unusual? Something you are unable to explain? Have you considered that this may be caused by a lack of communication between you? The relationship with these beautiful animals that have given so much to our progress deserves the utmost respect and deep knowledge of the horse. Each of us should ask ourselves what can and should be done to improve this relationship starting from the ethological needs of the horse, including its learning mode, and seeking to understand their way of relating with the surrounding environment, an environment that we have created for them but that often does not correspond to their natural needs ...