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Article

The Potential of Human–Horse Attachment in Creating Favorable Settings for Professional Care: A Study of Adolescents’ Visit to a Farm

Faculty of Social Sciences, Pori Unit, Tampere University, PL/Po-Box 185, FI-28101 Pori, Finland
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Animals 2020, 10(9), 1707; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10091707
Received: 4 August 2020 / Revised: 7 September 2020 / Accepted: 15 September 2020 / Published: 21 September 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Equine Assisted Interventions)
Although previous research has shown that the features of an attachment bond are fulfilled in human–dog dyads, it is still unclear if people may have horses as attachment figures. This paper examines whether adolescents’ contact with horses can result in attachment bonds and whether these forms of attachment hold any potential for motivating adolescents in professional care. The paper is based on a time-limited session where six girls and three boys, aged 16–17, were observing and interacting with free-roaming horses at a farm. The results suggest that the presence of horses may activate the development of attachment in adolescents in the same way people do. The four criteria of an attachment bond—proximity maintenance, safe haven, secure base, and separation distress—may be fulfilled in the interaction between a human and a horse. This promotes a therapeutically favorable environment for professional care that is appealing, unique, and accurate. The study provides insights into horses’ therapeutic potential in dealing with adolescents in need of professional therapy or care.
Previous research has shown features of an attachment bond to be fulfilled in, for instance, human–dog dyads; however, there is a considerable lack of research on the potential attachment in human–horse relationships. Employing Bowlby’s criteria of an attachment bond and Pierce’s model of therapeutically powerful activity, this article studies whether short-term exposure to horses brings about elements of emerging attachment for adolescents and if this interaction holds potential in creating a favorable early-stage setting for professional care. It draws from group discussions carried out with nine 16–17-year-old adolescents who participated in an EASEL (Equine-Assisted Social and Emotional Learning) session when visiting a farm with a youth worker. A qualitative content analysis of the discussions revealed that some characteristics of the four principal criteria of an attachment bond—proximity maintenance, safe haven, secure base, and separation distress—were identifiable in the adolescents’ expressed experiences of observing and interacting with horses. Moreover, the three main sources of therapeutic power—appeal, accuracy, and intactness—intersected with the emerging development of the adolescents’ attachment to horses. Additionally, space for self-reflection was enhanced by the presence of the horses. The study offers insights into the potential of human–horse attachment in dealing with adolescents with and without special needs for various therapy and care purposes. View Full-Text
Keywords: adolescent; attachment; equine-assisted therapies; human-horse relations; professional care adolescent; attachment; equine-assisted therapies; human-horse relations; professional care
MDPI and ACS Style

Törmälehto, E.; Korkiamäki, R. The Potential of Human–Horse Attachment in Creating Favorable Settings for Professional Care: A Study of Adolescents’ Visit to a Farm. Animals 2020, 10, 1707. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10091707

AMA Style

Törmälehto E, Korkiamäki R. The Potential of Human–Horse Attachment in Creating Favorable Settings for Professional Care: A Study of Adolescents’ Visit to a Farm. Animals. 2020; 10(9):1707. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10091707

Chicago/Turabian Style

Törmälehto, Erna, and Riikka Korkiamäki. 2020. "The Potential of Human–Horse Attachment in Creating Favorable Settings for Professional Care: A Study of Adolescents’ Visit to a Farm" Animals 10, no. 9: 1707. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10091707

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