I must admit that I was a bit skeptical when I first read that horses and humans share similar physiology. Upon further research, I was even more surprised to discover that humans and horses share an even closer relationship that extends to a psychological level. In fact, the psyche of horses is currently under study to see if there is not a similarity between the depression owners see in their horses and our own human condition. It is hoped that this study can address our depression even though it is still unknown if a horse’s depression truly mimics the stress we humans suffer at work or within interpersonal relationships.
So you may ask how or why someone has come up with such an obscure notion that humans and horses share any type of resemblance to one another — in this sphere or any other. I must admit that I also wondered this until I was presented with some glaring comparisons. The first of these comparisons were the medical diseases that are shared equally by both humans and horses, which include:
- Uveitis, which is an inflammation of the cellular layer of the eye
- Cancer, specifically melanoma
- Respiratory diseases, such as asthma in humans and inflammation of the airways in horses
This fact brings up one concern noted by horse owners: that this study would turn horses into giant guinea pigs in an attempt to find cures for humans. However, the study attempted to reassure us that this was not the case, but rather that the goal of the study was to find effective treatments and cures for both species using the same medications.
In another study, it was shown that the domestic horse can encounter social situations similar to those that humans experience on a daily basis. These interactions occur in working team horses as well as between horses and their human riders. The study tracked the behavior of 15 stallions and some 44 geldings, and it was further observed that each of them displayed individual personalities and reactions. These traits were monitored over a working period of four to 12 hours a day, taking special note of the horses’ reactions when their environments were changed.
The results of the study that somewhat surprised researchers, however, were in how similar the horses’ responses were to those of humans. In fact, to some, it seemed as if the horses experienced the same behavior as seen in humans given their various personality types, which included (for example) how they looked at the world through a fixed, gaze-like stare when bored or uncomfortable with their environment.
Other responses noted were the twitching defense horses used to ward off annoying flies to the way that they reacted when humans suddenly appeared at their stable doors. This was particularly interesting as researchers were able to note how differently the horses responded to different people. It seems that they would appear curious about strangers, leery of harsher handlers, and excited to see their kinder owners.
So how does horse behavior compare to that of humans? The first conclusion was that some of the horses suffered from depression. This was what researchers determined caused the fixed, gaze-like stare noted above. However, the researchers didn’t rely on physical observation only but also checked the horses’ plasma cortisol levels. In all of the cases, the plasma cortisol levels were lower, which is what happens in humans when they become depressed. Researchers also noted that when they diagnosed a horse to be depressed, the animal appeared to show a significant lack of response to stimuli which, again, mimics human behavior.
Though more research still needs to be done to develop an effective treatment for depression, one could hope that these studies will not only assist animal researchers in helping horses, but may also assist in finding an effective cure / treatment for humans.
In summary, it is obvious that both horses and humans experience similar emotions and feelings from happiness to depression. Sadly, today it seems as if the treatment of human depression is limited to the use of drug therapy. It can only be hoped that, in the future, researchers may be able to discover a non-drug solution in which one could alleviate depression and its effects by merely changing their environment.
What do you think? Would changing the environment help those who are depressed?
Image via Project Gutenberg