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inaclick 01-28-2011 08:03 AM

Why do girls like horses? - > my "theory"
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.

equiniphile 01-28-2011 10:53 AM

Absolutely. When faced with power, both genders are awed, but men usually seem to have to tame or control that power, while women are happy to let a horse SHOW them their power. Does that make sense?

CharliGirl 01-28-2011 11:01 AM

I agree with you completely. My sister and I are quite comfortable around horses, while my brothers find even my elderly appaloosa to be somewhat intimidating (and the horses react accordingly).

Katesrider011 01-28-2011 11:14 AM

I agree with you, though I'm a guy. I get the same reaction when I ask other guys why they wouldn't ride. Most of the time they just aren't interested. Sometimes I wonder if they tell the truth. I wonder if some guys think they'll be sacrificing their masculinity by partaking in a "girly" sport. You know how guys like to be all tough ya know, and showing great passion for an animal will make people think otherwise.

I love the smell of horses, I love being around them, and I actually like the criticism I get for riding horses cause it just makes me a stronger person. I want to take on a job that involves horses. Riding has created a new me, it's made me a stronger person than I ever was in my preteen years. You know all the Drama, but it got to me when I was twelve and stupid. Though I can still be stupid now :-P I'm still a teen.

kitten_Val 01-28-2011 11:14 AM

Frankly, folks, I think it's more of a cultural thing. Like in "western" part of country lots of riders are men, look at mongols, Indians (in past), people from Arabic countries, etc. In those cultures men were/are the main caregiver, rider and decision-makers when it comes to horses.

ErikaLynn 01-28-2011 11:16 AM

I agree with you and what you said makes a lot of sense. What about the men that do like horses? I see that English riding is more female dominate, but I do know a few male riders that ride english. My trainer is a man, and there are a lot of male Olympic riders. Do you have any theroies on that?

equiniphile 01-28-2011 11:18 AM

^Personally, I think riding is more appealing to men when it's framed as a "manly" sport, like the appeal of being a "tough Western cowboy". Dressage and "dancing horses" seems too feminine to a lot of guys.

natisha 01-28-2011 11:19 AM

I agree with your theory & will add my own too.
Most men/males like an off/on switch. Horses don't come with those.
You have to be smarter than the horse who may not always be readily obedient. It takes a special guy to understand the dynamics of a horse.
Most find it easier to push a switch or replace a broken part.

thesilverspear 01-28-2011 11:33 AM

I think it's socialization. I certainly wouldn't take any "genetic programming" theories seriously. Even in areas where the relationship between genetics and behaviour is being closely examined, researchers struggle to separate hardwiring from socialization and other outside influences. Genetic/gender predeterminism has a long history of being used to keep women fairly well subjugated on the grounds that female and male brains were (a) different and (b) that female brains were physiologically unfit practice law, medicine, politics, etc. Now that we live in an age of feminine empowerment (aye right), we can just change genetic predetermination theories to suit modern social norms. Cool how that works.

What there is is pretty good research indicating how pervasive and subtle socialization is, especially when it comes to gendered behaviour. When kids are very young, they find their world ordered in incredibly gendered ways -- some things are for little boys and other things are for little girls, including horses. There are lots of horsey toys directed towards girls, for instance, while boy toys seem to consist of stuff like racing cars, guns, etc. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. If a boy does take an interest in riding and goes to his local stable, he'll find that most of the people there are women. In the meantime, his pals are off playing football. There's a lot of social pressure to do certain things and not do other things. Obviously just talking in the general case. Some kids are more susceptible than others with regards to how they fit into a peer group, and there are many great horsemen out there who are great role models for boys, should they encounter them. Anyway, in my totally anecdotal experience, kids are pretty ruthless about "correcting" behaviour which does not conform to their gender norms. Far more so than many adults, who have less rigid views of these things. I've seen preteen and teenage boys who were riding well hassled by their peer group for participating in a "girly" activity.

You ask why little girls who go out to the barn seem to like horses from an early age? One possible reason might be pure statistics: we already live in a culture where it's assumed that horseback riding is a feminized sport. More girls are probably exposed to horses from the beginning, thus a greater percentage of them take an actual interest in horses. Another possible reason is that girls have been receiving subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle social cues that they should be liking horses, while their brothers are receiving social cues that they should be liking race cars and football. So when a girl is exposed to a live horse for the first time, she is more primed than a boy to like it. This sort of initial connection is amplified by the fact that most of the other people at the barn (if it's your average livery yard or riding school) will be women of all ages.

What I don't believe at all is that there is something inherent in women which makes them like or want to connect with horses. In cultures with different gender expectations and also different horsemanship expectations men can and indeed are expected to forge a relationship with their horses. These include, offhand, the nomads on the Mongolian Stepps, the Bedouin, the Native Americans, and also guys who ride in the Spanish riding school in Vienna or who train Andalusians and Lusitanos in Spain and Portugal.

bsms 01-28-2011 11:35 AM

As a guy in his 50s who has always liked horses but only recently started riding them, I think you've missed it. Here are my ideas:

1 - Riding horses is a girls sport.

No reason why it has to be this way, but where I live, you either are around horses because you live on a ranch and then guys will ride horses, or you don't live on a ranch and it is something for girls. At a riding stable around here, you would rarely see an adult male riding. Lessons are given by women. Drive by a stable, and you'll see 14 year old girls riding. No men.

Of course, this had to start somewhere. Being old, I remember that in the 50s and 60s, men worked and women frequently did not. I spent most of my life working 12+ hour days, and fully understand why most men didn't come home and drive to a stable and ride horses. But with no role models, riding became a woman's sport, or more frequently a girls sport.

2 - Relationships. Long term training with a horse is a relationship. Most guys are goal oriented - do something to win something. You don't train a horse to win much in a year or two. In fact, you don't train them for much of anything unless you first spend some years learning yourself.

A guy looks at it and says, "A motorcycle doesn't need attention, I can learn to ride myself, and I can buy a moderately competitive cycle at a price I can afford.

Mia believes her real title is "Queen of the Universe", but in reality, she's a decent mare who was used for about a year for endurance racing by a guy, who then decided he needed something better. So she wasn't ridden for a year, and then was donated to a charity.

I bought her on a whim, started riding because I had just retired and was bored, didn't think much of it and was surprised a year or more later to discover that I liked her, and she liked me. I'm learning to ride by reading books and by climbing on her and seeing how she responds to different things. But it never occurred to me at the start that a horse would also end up being a friend...

Females are more relation based, and on average more likely to do something because of the relation it builds. That works well with riding a horse, particularly when you understand that the "Queen of the Universe" will never actually win anything.

For most guys, a motorcycle is faster, easier to learn, cheaper to own, goes more places, and you don't have to worry if the motorcycle likes you or respects you.

Anyways, those are my guesses. It is a pity. IMHO, riding horses is far more 'macho' than riding a motorcycle, and besides, I get tired of seeing questions posted on forums like "Is this horsie name cute enough?" and "Does this saddle make my butt look big?"

BTW - the braids were done by my wife. The photo is over a year old, and I have since trimmed Mia's mane to make it easier to brush and go...

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