Humans additionally change the way they talk in order to better communicate with their horses.
"The term "motherese" is used to refer to the way many humans talk to their horses," co-author Dona Davis of the University of South Dakota’s Department of Anthropology and Sociology told Discovery News. "It is not 'baby talk,' but a controlled and calming tone of voice. People use this language tone so as not to excite the horse. I see it as a kind of verbal stroking."
Co-author Sarah Cowles, also from the University of South Dakota, added that a horse and its rider also become accustomed to each other's smells. Horses have adapted their ways of relating to other horses to the manner in which they respond to humans.
Leanne Proops, a researcher at the University of Sussex who has also studied the horse-human relationship, told Discovery News, "Horses are highly social animals that use very fine body and facial movements to communicate with each other ... Wild equids are sensitive to changes in body posture of conspecifics (other horses) and also are sensitive to the behavior of other species that form mixed herds."
Proops added that the process of domestication might have enhanced the ability horses possess to understand humans.
Could horses then be man's true best friend in the animal kingdom, perhaps surpassing even dogs and cats in terms of loyalty and level of connection? Prior studies do show that horses possess incredible memories, never seeming to forget favorite familiar humans, even after years of separation.
Many of the riders in the study reported having other pets at home, and indicated that they valued them all for different reasons, but the exhilaration of feeling completely in sync with a horse appears hard to match.
As rider Bella shared, "It's that connection that you start craving. Once you have it, you need more."