Feeling at one with a horse – just what does that mean?


human-interactionFemale riders without a partner tend to consider their horses as a mirror of themselves and are more inclined to view themselves and their horses as “one”, Dutch researchers have found.

The findings of researchers from Van Hall Larenstein, the  Wageningen-based University of Applied Sciences,  were outlined to delegates at the recent annual conference of the International Society for Equitation Science, held in the United States.

Inga Wolframm and fellow researchers Rachel Krempe and Hannah Mertens explored relationship styles among female riders and how they perceived their horses, in particular looking at the issue of horses as self objects.

Wolframm said therapists can determine the intrinsic needs and resulting relationships of patients by identifying relevant “self-objects”.

People, objects and experiences may all be considered self-objects and provide feedback that either fuels or undermines a person’s self.

“Mirroring self-objects” confirm the self in its entirety, while “idealising self-objects” (IS) sustain the self by becoming part of an admired self-object. “Twinship self-objects” enable a person to find likeness in and “oneness” with another.

Preliminary research argues that animals provide varying degrees of self-object feedback, as their owners may form lasting relationships with them.

The aim of their study was to investigate whether the  relationship status of women  impacted on their perceptions of their horses as self-objects.

A total of 296 German female riders were recruited via social media, and were asked to complete what is known as the  Companion Animal Self-object Questionnaire, as well as indicating whether they were in a relationship, lived with their partner, or had children.

Eleven percent were aged under 20, 68.9 percent were 20-40, and and 19.9 percent were over 40.

Results showed that far fewer female riders in a relationship tended to consider their horses as mirroring self-objects than riders without a partner.

No significant differences for women’s self-object perceptions were found between living arrangements or whether they had children.

“Findings indicate that women without a partner confirm their identities more positively through their horses and experience greater levels of ‘oneness’ with them, perhaps because they see relationships with their horses as substitutes for other relationships,” the researchers said.

They said future research should investigate whether differences in self-object perceptions also affected women’s behavior towards their horses.

In other research, Wolframm was joined by Joana Brandes and Ananja Stehouwer, from the same Dutch university, to investigate whether age and level of experience might impact on riders’ perception of their horses as self-objects.

They found that the longer riders owned their horses, the more they were likely to consider themselves and their horses as “one”.

At the same time, older, more experienced riders were less likely to define their own identity through their horses.

A total of 451 Dutch female riders were recruited via social media and completed the Companion Animal Self-object Questionnaire (CAS-Q), indicating their age, riding experience, and length of horse ownership.

The findings indicated that, with increasing age and increasing riding experience, female riders tended to rely less on their horses to confirm their own identity via mirroring self-object or idealising self-objects.

“Findings also indicate however that the longer riders have owned their horses, the more they tend to experience them as twinship self-objects,” the researchers noted.

“This may be indicative of a theme common to equestrian sports: that of ‘oneness’ between horse and rider.”



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