Date of Award

Fall 12-2021

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Interdisciplinary Program


Robert Causey

Second Committee Member

Robert Bayer

Third Committee Member

Phyllis Brazee

Additional Committee Members

Sydney Carroll Thomas

Renate Klein

Martin Stokes

Charles Wallace

Konstantinos Kafesios


Attachment Theory suggests interaction with caregivers in childhood impacts relationships and health throughout our lives (Bowlby, 1965, 1969, 1971), leaving many who have experienced insecure attachment with an inability to form healthy relationships or cope with stressors throughout their lifespan (Holmberg, Lomore, Takacs, & Price, 2011). Horses have interacted with humans for over 12,000 years (Hintz, 1995), holding multiple roles in human society, most relying on observation by humans of equine behavior, and formation of a human-equine bond (Hamilton, 2011). More securely attached humans tend to more readily decipher non-verbal cues, positively affecting their felt security and internal working model of Attachment (Bachi, 2013). Interacting with horses, who provide significant non-verbal cues, may provide an opportunity to enhance this process, providing useful feedback and insight. This study aimed to evaluate if a single ground-based encounter with a horse could bring about changes in women participants’ reports of Attachment and Emotion Regulation. It was hypothesized that participants would move towards more secure dimensions of Attachment and Emotion Regulations after the encounter with the horse and that behavioral interactions with the horse would differ for those with differing dimensions of Attachment or Emotion Regulation. This study incorporated a repeated measures mixed methods design, one twenty-eight year old Standardbred mare, “Wicky” Long Wick, interacted with 22 female university students with minimal prior equine experience aged 18-30. Participants completing a demographic and screening questionnaire along with the Experiences in Close Relationships –Revised (ECR)(Brennan, Clark, & Shaver, 1998) and Emotion Regulation Questionnaires (ERQ)(Gross & John, 2003) at baseline, then the ECR and ERQ again both immediately prior to and immediately following encounter with the horse. The encounter was videotaped and included meeting, grooming, leading, and goodbye. Statistical analyses were completed using SPSS including paired t-tests and correlations. Videotape was evaluated, coded, and included in both quantitative and qualitative data analyses. Participants were recruited and participated in the study over the period of one calendar year. A significant decrease in Attachment anxiety was shown after encountering the horse (t(21)=2.915, p=.008 (M .237364, SD= .381941)), and significantly less time was spent between the horse and participant at goodbye than at meeting (t (21)=2.751, p=.021 (M 42.045, SD= 71.67)), particularly for those with insecure dimensions of Attachment (t (15)= 2.814, p=.013 (M= 45.75, SD=65.03)). Participants with insecure dimensions of Attachment showed significant increases in cognitive reappraisal after encountering the horse (t(14)= -3.732, p=.002 (M -.411, SD= .4266)), and the greatest decreases in Attachment Anxiety (t(14)=3.364, p=.005 (M .307, SD= .354)). The findings suggest interaction between horses and people differs along Attachment dimensions and show some support for positive changes in humans for both Attachment and Emotion Regulation dimensions after interaction with a horse.