“Twenty-two percent of millennials say they have ‘no friends,’” claimed a Vox article from 2019.

While that stat was pulled from a poll of fewer than 2,000 people, the truth of it still echoes around me three years later. Coworkers, family members, and yes, friends have lamented, “Why the heck is it so hard to make friends as a grown-up?”

The issue isn’t unique to my generation either. It reaches across almost every divide. Millions of people are peering into the vast void of the loneliness epidemic. A term has even been coined for it: “friendship desert.” 

Oddly, I am not among the horde of the isolated. “Gretchen can make friends in a closet,” people have said of me in the past. I don’t pretend to know how or why my alleged gregariousness is more effective than anyone else’s. Heck, even writing down, “I am good at making friends,” feels a bit gross. As if I have a giant ice cream cone and am complaining that everyone else has lima beans.

My status as the “the friendly one” doesn’t mean there haven’t been seasons in my life where I struggled to find connection, of course. Nor does it mean that I have never been lonely. This kind of angst is a part of the human condition.

However, I do have an adult-friend-making secret weapon that I know works—horses.  

Whether you are an owner, a rider, or goof around with horses that belong to someone else, a life among steeds always needs other people. Even if you have just a couple pasture pets behind the house, caring for the basic needs of equines requires even the most reclusive individuals to socialize. At a bare minimum, the farrier and vet will visit, and feed has to be bought from somebody. 

Most horse-crazy people have a bigger circle, though. There is often a trainer, the owner of a boarding barn, members of saddle clubs or various associations and, for better or worse, equestrian neighbors and barn mates.

There are also the unofficial members of horse life. That kid down the street that rides with you. The lady who bought a horse from you a decade ago, and for some reason or another, the two of you still talk. Or the stranger you swapped numbers with after she found you weeping in a parking lot and helped you load your horse in the trailer. The opportunities for connection are endless, even if they are strange and sometimes random.

The human relationships I have made through horses are some of my most rewarding.

One friend I talk to almost every day. Between discussions on proper feed, or which breed we like best, we swap stories about our families and share thoughts on money and other things. Another person I met through horses is my designated “Apocalypse pal.” If the world ends, we are packing up the cat and going to her house. Her kindness, love and sheer handiness leave me in awe. There are many others too who have, in their own way, become chosen family. Even those relationships that didn’t last provided insight that is hard to glean anywhere else.

What makes horse life fertile ground for human connection, I believe, it the intensity and the uncertainty. Your next ride could be the best day of your life or the worst, and there is no way of truly knowing. There’s a vulnerability embedded in such a sport and it bonds us together, whether we like it or not.

Of course, not everyone with horsehair on their clothes is going to be your next BFF. But among them, the likelihood of finding a buddy you can connect with—and authentically—is high. Even if it’s just someone to hold your horse while you run for a pre-ride bathroom break, or to text mare memes too, a new horse friend is always a treasure.