A friend asked me this question a while ago and I did my best to come up with a good answer. He's a middle aged father of 2 boys and his question was genuine and serious, without any joke or innuendo intentions of his side, so I tried building up an answer as good as I could come up with.
I'd like to sum it up and present it to you guys, as I have no idea if I got it right or not.
It is a known and acknowledged fact that from the multitude of children that are into horses, the vast majority are girls. Some of these just go through a "horsie" phase, others take this passion further and become excellent horse people or riders, etc.
But why the girls?
My answer was this:
No matter if you like horses or not, and no matter the gender, a horse gives you the impression of power, force, dignity. It is an intimidating animal, at least by the size.
I believe that women (and girls, including little girls) react differently than men when faced with a big hunky ...creature. Both genders will be impressed, but I believe women have less of a competition instinct and more of a nurturing / protection instinct.
I asked many guys why do they dislike horses. Their answers were vague, evasive, such as "they are too big", "they are dumb", "they smell bad".
Considering that some of the men that gave these answers were owners of even "dumber" pets (such as snakes. No offense!) , I always thought they answers were hiding a reaction that they might not even understand themselves, on a conscious level. Perhaps they massive raw power and size of a horse is intimidating / irritating for a man, and perhaps exactly the same attributes are comforting and relaxing for a woman.
I believe that women are somehow genetically programmed to .... try and tame or befriend "big strong creatures", to gain their trust and eventually control them in a mild manner. I am sorry, this sentence probably sounds awfully offensive for both genders, but it's the best way I can resume my thoughts in writing.
I thought of what I was feeling when I was a little girl and walking around the first horse I was allowed to get close to. It was a huge, overweight, draft-mix horse. His hoofs were probably the size of my head. And yet I was not scared, but had this feeling of safety and peace whenever I was around him.
So, to sum up.
I think men and women perceive horses in exactly the same way, but react differently. A strong, large creature can actually create a feeling of comfort, safety and power in a woman, and a feeling of distress, danger and competition in a man. The little girl probably thinks the horse is the big buddy that looks out for her, while the little boy is worried the big dumb stinky beast might rip his head off. And this goes on for mature people as well.
As for the smell; There is indeed a distinct horse smell. I have met far less women disturbed by the smell than men. Perhaps it is subconsciously associated with testosterone? And in this case, again, men tend to avoid or get rid of the unwanted source, while women feel calmer, safer.
So what do you guys think of my theory? Did I nail it?
Please note that I am not talking about rational, logical decisions; I'm trying to explain to myself (and as well to my friend) what is with this almost natural reaction that women tend to have in liking horses, since very early ages.