Anthropomorphism is defined as the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-humans and is considered to be an innate tendency of human psychology. It’s possible that it leads people to like animals more when they have apparent human qualities. It may also create a greater willingness to help them in situations of distress, result in less willingness to eat them and an increase in the moral concern of them. We have all been trained in childhood by films full of anthropomorphic characters, e.g. Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny etc. We grow up projecting human traits onto animals and it becomes our world view.
While seeing animals as having human traits may result in us being more considerate toward them, it can also result in problems when it overrides our ability to see them as the species that they truly are. When the species is very different to ours such as with horses, it may result in unfair and incorrect expectations of them.
I hear people say things such as ‘he was planning how to get back at me’, or ‘she was doing it deliberately to upset me’. When we start believing that our horses are out to get us, planning revenge and deliberately being difficult, we start to fight them. If we’ve experienced other humans doing such things to us we carry the old hurt and anger inside us and can then project this onto the horse. Sometimes a horse can do a small thing ‘wrong’ but the human has an enormous emotional response because it triggers all the old stuff inside us. This can result in the person becoming upset, angry or potentially aggressive toward the horse. This creates fear in the horse and the whole situation escalates.
If we see the horse as a horse and realise they don’t do these sorts of human things, then we are free to just deal with whatever is happening. Don’t get me wrong I am not saying horses don’t feel emotions, what I am saying is they do not plan and plot like humans do. A horse is in the moment dealing with whatever is happening in the best way they know how to. This will be based on past experiences, present events, the environment and the personality and breed of the horse. If they can’t do something it is our job to learn how to communicate with the horse in such a way that they can understand, and also to help the horse to gain any skills they may need to complete the task.
Humans tend to bring way too many emotions and emotional baggage into the paddock. A horse does not hate you or dislike you they are just trying to deal with life. When you are with a horse the best thing you can do for both yourself and the horse is to not take it personally. If something happens while you are with a horse and you don’t take it personally you are able to stay calm, assess the situation and work out what happened, why, and how you can work on improving the situation. If your response to a problem is ‘oh s/he doesn’t like me’ you are going to start feeling negative emotions. This will change the way you interact with the horse and build up a barrier between you.
While it is important to always recognise that horses are sentient beings and have emotions it is also just as important to recognise that they are a horse. Horses are beautiful because they are different. We like being with them because they’re not humans, so embrace that difference and celebrate the fact that they are horses.
Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.
Happy Horses Bitless
Lismore, NSW, Australia
Ph: 0401 249 263