Which is best?

Is a horse like a big dog?

When having conversations with people and telling them I am a therapeutic riding instructor they say things like, “I love horses, aren’t they just like a big dog?” Well, yes and no.

The yes

Both horses and dogs have been companions to humans for thousands of years. Because of this, they have some familiarity with humans as a species. They are both amazing companions. Both partner with therapists for certain types of therapy. We could possibly have both at our homes. Horses and dogs both have a keen sense of smell and good hearing. In the natural setting, both communicate with other members of their family/ herd with body language

The No

Horses are prey animals and dogs or predators. That seems like an obvious difference, but how does that play out when working with one over the other? Horses have survived on their own for thousands of years because of some of their behaviors. They fear everything. From an umbrella to a bag floating around in the wind. Their response is quick and furious . The reason for this is because out on the prairie, they had to respond quickly to a predator or be eaten. Every part of their anatomy makes them super sensitive to noises and movement. Eyes on the side of the head give them a view of everything except just behind and just in front of them. Super strong legs to run fast away from anything that would want to harm them. A horse’s first response to danger is to run!


Why is it important that horses are afraid of everything? Because you have to earn their trust to be in their circle. They will shy away from you if you have feelings of aggression or anger. Horses react to body language and they mirror the moods of those in their space. The fact that they are more fearful than dogs means they offer a different type of therapeutic experience. They work well with people who are having trouble regulating their emotions. If a person cannot regulate and calm themselves down, they don’t get to be in the space with a horse. They work well with shy and reserved people because horses have a similar demeanor. They work well with people who lack confidence because what could be better confidence builder than working with a 1000 pound animal? Just about any personality of horse can have a space in helping humans.


Well the obvious answer to, “is a horse like,a big dog” is that you can ride a horse and you cannot ride a dog. This opens up an entirely new realm of physical benefits like balance, motor planning, improved balance, improved fitness and endurance. While riding isn’t always necessary to receive the benefits of being around a horse it does open up so many options.

Final notes

While I do LOVE LOVE dogs, they are not like big horses. Both can be used in therapy and both have their strong points. But obviously, I have chosen horses in my world for therapeutic benefit. Hopefully I will never have to live without either, because they both bring me so much joy and companionship that I couldn’t live as well without them. Now – about cats…….

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