Simply standing in front of a horse and gently stroking his nose can suddenly make you feel all peaceful. How is it possible that horses have such a calming effect on us?
Rupert Isaacson knows all about it: at his horse ranch in Texas, he experiences the influence of horses on children with autism every day. He wrote the bestselling books 'The Horse Boy' and 'The Long Ride Home' about the journeys he made on horseback with his son Rowan.
How come horses calm us?
There's an old English saying: "There's nowt so good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse." Why is this?
Even if you're not a rider, it's almost impossible not to respond emotionally to the sheer beauty of horses - as Maya Angelou famously wrote: "Horses make a landscape more beautiful".
But there is more. Not only are horses physically and sensorily very pleasing - they don't just look good, their smooth coats and warm muscles feel good, and they even smell good - but their presence is almost always calming.
The Heart/Math Institute in California has been addressing itself to why this might be. It turns out that all hearts radiate a magnetic field. The bigger the heart, the bigger the field. Horses have huge hearts. Being within a few feet of the magnetic field resonating from that centre seems to fill us with empathy. And horses, being social animals with a drive to connect, tend to follow up that empathy with connection.
So far so good - but there's more. If you sit on a horse in motion, your hips rock in rhythm, especially if the horse is well trained. Anything that rocks your hips in rhythm for a long period of time feels good. Very good. The reason - this movement makes your body produce the happiness hormone oxytocin, which in turn calms your nervous system, tones your vital organs via the vagal nerve, and switches off the cell danger response (or amygdala) in the brain.
Horses carry us into adventure
Of course, a badly trained, or badly treated horse, can have the opposite effect... but in general if you just let the horse be a horse, without asking too much from him, and then stand in his magnetic field, let alone sit on his broad and wonderful back, happiness will result.
And horses carry us. Into adventure. Into dream. They make us superhuman - faster, bigger, more powerful, more beautiful, when we ride them. Horses are freedom. To the Tibetans and the Mongolians, the horse represents your highest self. Your 'Wind Horse' is your mojo, your luck.
So, if life is largely about the pursuit of happiness, we know this - money can't buy happiness.
But it can buy horses. Which is pretty much the same thing.
And you don't even need to own them. you just have to be near them.
Who said magic isn't real?
On 15, 16 and 17 September, Rupert Isaacson will talk about why horses make us happy at the Dutch Happinez Festival.
Text: Rupert Isaacson - Photo: Fabian Burghardt