Perceptions and attitudes towards horses in European societies



In spite of the fact that horses were domesticated between 5000 and 3000 B.C., the relations between humans and horses constitutes a relatively unexplored area. This may be due to the fact that horses in middle class western society are seen as companion animals, of primarily social and recreational value. Horses, however, have historically enjoyed an enormously important utilitarian, economic and sporting significance and in many countries horse meat is also eaten.

Nowadays, we can classify the different ways in which horses are used into four different fields:

• recreational and/or social purposes

• breeding

• sport and competition

• meat production

In each category one can distinguish 4 main areas of concern:

• the behaviour and wellbeing of the horse

• feeding

• maintenance

• veterinary care

All 4 fields make their own particular demands on these aspects of the care of horses. In addition, people have also approached these different fields of equine exploitation through the centuries with different attitudes. The goal of this article is to review the attitudes of people towards horses. The main conclusion of this article is that the diversity of uses for equines and corresponding organisations makes it difficult to get a clear overview and thereby inhibits scientific research into human-horse interactions.