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Girls and Horses

By Leslie Potter

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

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In my daily scanning of the horse-world news, I came across an NPR article about the unsolvable mystery of why girls love horses. It's a human-interest piece, not a scientific study, and it doesn't really make any serious attempts at answering the question, but it offers some interesting opinions.

I think it's really hard to make sweeping generalizations about girls. When I worked as a riding instructor, the vast majority of the students were girls and of course they were all horse-obsessed, but that's where the similarities ended. There were outgoing, popular girls, painfully shy girls, class clowns, and even a few (dare I say it?) mean girls. Step into any lesson barn, and it's bound to be the same sort of mix. So it's especially weird that a love of horses is so overwhelmingly a female trait, but that it seems to transcend everything else.

Another thing to bear in mind is that the absence of boys in the barn is mostly an American phenomenon. In many other countries, boys and men ride as much or more than woman. There are also still pockets of the American west where the cowboy tradition is alive and well, and men and women both ride. Certainly, there's a cultural factor that you have to keep in mind.

So, back to the NPR article. In it, writer Peggy Orenstein suggests that girls identify with horses because they are a symbol of power, and through them, girls find a way to express their own power. I suppose that's one possibility, but it doesn't explain why boys don't have the same attraction. Is it because boys are allowed to be powerful in their own right while girls are still, to a certain extent, expected to be polite princesses and not strong superheroes? On the other hand, how many of my fellow children of the 80s only wanted to be She-Ra, Princess of Power, not because of the power but because of her awesome horse?

Another writer quoted in the article, MIT grad student Laurel Braitman, suggests that horses fuel girls' imaginations. With a horse, a mild-mannered suburban girl can become a cowgirl on the frontier. Fair enough, but young boys are no less imaginative than girls, so it still doesn't explain the discrepancy.

I've been pondering this one, and I can't come up with a solid answer. Maybe it has something to do with the nurturing instinct hard-wired in women. I think everyone, regardless of gender, wants to feel powerful sometimes. Boys and girls can both want to feel the wind on their faces. But maybe after the exhilaration of a great ride, girls want the added experience of being able to take care of and form a bond with a sensitive, independent being while boys are okay with just putting the motorcycle in the garage and moving on to the next activity.

What do you think? Why is horse-craziness so common in little girls but so rare in little boys? Click "Submit a Comment" below and share your thoughts.

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Reader Comments

Mary Ann    Pittsford, NY

8/12/2014 10:06:34 AM

I believe that your last comment about girls having more of a nurturing instinct is quite true. I also believe that horses are and extension of girls playing with dolls. Dressing them brushing their hair etc....they do the same thing with horses.

Sharon    Fallston, MD

8/12/2014 9:14:57 AM

Girls want to nurture their horses yet while riding, fly like the wind. They know their horses can be loved and they are loved back. But, the two, loving your horse and flying like the wind, fulfills that lonely place in your heart. The sense of belonging to something.

Cindy    Rockford, IL

5/15/2011 6:45:38 AM

Why do I love horses? I will never know, but it's been a lifetime passion of mine. Horses are swift and agile as a deer, yet strong and sturdy as an ox, and loving and friendly as a dog. They have been created with the best attributes of animals. They are amazing!

Marie    Half Moon Bay, CA

2/15/2011 5:13:34 PM

I also think that horses are commonly accepted by girls, but the average boy (around here, at least) who loves and rides horses will generally be accepted more by girls than other boys. With girls, it's 'cool' to ride. Boys? Not so much..

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