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Journeys Together: Horses and Humans in Partnership

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Many living with companion animals hope for “good relationships” based on trust, mutuality, and cooperation. Relationships develop from mutual actions, yet research often overlooks nonhumans as mindful actors within relationships. This is a study of horse/human dyads, using multimethod approaches intended to include horses as participants. We ask: can “good relationships” be observed, especially when the pair know each other well? We studied familiar/unfamiliar pairs, negotiating simple obstacles, to explore qualities of cooperation between pairs. Interviews with human participants elicited perceptions of horses’ “personalities” and reactions. We analyzed video recordings of interactions and also showed them to external observers. We identified differences in attention, tension and coordination: familiar pairs were more coordinated, mutually attentive, and less tense, and they showed less resistance. That is, some relationships displayed discernible qualities of “working together.” We cannot know nonhuman animals’ experiences, but knowing how they behave says something about their agency within interspecies relationships.

Affiliations: 1: University of ChesterUnited; 2: University of BristolUnited Kingdom


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