Researchers have studied the impact of human-horse bonds on decisions regarding equestrian care, ownership change and end-of-life decisions. The study revealed that some owners hide certain costs from loved ones, and that first-time owners feel guilty when it’s time to say goodbye.
Many people view their horses as best friends, family members, buddies and trusted confidantes. But sometimes, their bank account seems to be drained by the constant care that horses need.
Different to dogs, who are considered companions, or livestock, which have a production role, horses fall into both categories. So how do you put a price on that?
With time, horses and their handlers become very bonded. This can lead to challenges with decision making when it comes to health, welfare and finances. The horse-human relationship is so complex, that decisions are often emotionally charged – especially decisions about euthanasia. To explore these bonds, and how they can affect different decisions, researchers surveyed nearly 1,000 horse owners regarding their relationship with their horses and how they approached decisions regarding care, change of ownership and end of life. They also performed one-on-one interviews with 11 owners to get more detailed insights.
Surveys showed that 93% of owners considered their horses as family members. Many owners described big financial investments, and even stated that they spend more time with their horses than their spouses. In certain situations owners even hid financial costs from loved ones and family members. Many owners sacrifice their own dreams and goals to keep paying for a loved horses retirement. They often don’t consider taking on a second horse after the first has retired.
Especially first-time owners are at risk of experiencing guilt and spending excessive amounts of money to care for retired horses. If the horse gets imjured, sick, or needs to be euthanised, they feel it is their responsibility to care for their family member – no matter the cost. While euthanasia becomes a relatively clear choice for an animal that’s suffering, the decision seems to be harder for first-time owners.