A great deal of affection and attention has been, and continues to be, lavished on horses. At Cavalia
the trainers would pause every few minutes to stroke the necks of their horses affectionately, and the audience was filled with the kind of people who almost faint with devotion at the sight of a horse, any horse
Horses are prominent in our legends and in art too. We even know the names of Alexander the Great's horse (Bucephalus), that of Caligula (Incitatus), of Roland (Veillantif), and of King Arthur (Lamri), among many others. In fiction we have Black Beauty and Gandalf's horse Shadowfax, a few again among many. Horses have even been made stand-ins for human beings, as in My Little Pony. Wild horses are fanatically defended even when they overgraze the range; there are numerous horse rescue operations seeking homes for abandoned horses, who are invariably described in human terms. ("This beautiful boy...")
So. We love them. Do they love us back?
I asked this question of my teacher one day at the stable. This young woman is a certified horse trainer, a certified veterinarian's assistant and a teacher who has given her life to the training and riding of these animals. She only paused for a fraction of a beat.
"Short answer: no."
Now this is all shot through, of course, with maybes and qualifications of various sorts. Horses certainly recognize familiar human individuals, and a person who works closely with a horse will develop a bond with the animal, which, however, is almost certainly far less intense on the horse's part than on the person's part. Some mares seem to feel affection for human children. I know such a mare, China. Some human women, perhaps most women, feel affection for a foal. This kind of attraction for infants seems to cross many mammalian species. Some mares will even present their side to a child, which among horses is an invitation to nurse.
However, all that said, horses are not dogs.
Dogs actually do love us, sometimes better than we love them. Dogs, of course, are making something of a mistake, in that they seem to think that we are wolves, or that they have somehow joined our pack (or, we theirs!). They don't seem to recognize the species barrier. From their point of view this makes a certain amount of sense. We started our association (very much longer ago, by the way, than the time that we tamed horses) as hunting companions, comrades in arms, predators together. We trained them to help in the hunt, and we gave them a good share of the resultant meat. Dogs are also, among animals, very intelligent, and their intelligence gives us a way to contact them. Horses, on the other hand, are dumb as rocks.
We are predators, and horses are prey animals. We might, lulled into complacency by the ubiquity of grocery stores, forget about this distinction. Horses never do. Not for an instant. Accordingly, horses are notoriously unpredictable, liable to start ("shy") or panic at the slightest motion or event. As short as my association with horses has been, I have seen them panic at the advent of an automobile which they have certainly seen 1,000 times, at a fluttering cloth, at a duck flying up from a canal, at a raccoon in a tree, at a board lying on the ground, at so far as I could tell nothing at all.
They don't at bottom trust us, and we are fools if we trust them. The most stable and tame of horses is perfectly capable of injuring or even killing a human being (unintentionally of course) if it flies into a panic, if only because they are so much bigger than we are. Not to mention the way a dominant horse is likely to behave if it decides that it is tired of following orders. (Bucking, kicking...)
So, not love. A cautious and distant friendship perhaps, more intense and articulated on our side than on theirs... Mutual respect. A bridge across the wide wide river that runs between the eaters and the eaten, tenuous sometimes, perilously narrow, of uncertain footing, but nevertheless there, for our mutual enrichment.