Horses are loving animals by nature. Ask anyone who owns a horse and they will tell you that a horse also helps to improve your mental health. A growing number of occupational therapists are using horses in treatment. For example, American barns, such as Bennie’s Barn in Oklahoma provide comprehensive therapy programs for individuals with physical, cognitive, emotional, and/or developmental disabilities. Horses can help those with addictions as well as those with behavioral problems and children with autism. Horses are also incredibly intelligent animals. Did you know that horses can read human emotions?
Some of you may remember a horse by the name of Clever Hans. The famous horse attracted global attention for appearing to recognize numbers and even do arithmetic. It was eventually learned that Clever Hans was not actually performing these amazing tasks, but was watching the reactions of his trainer.
Can horses read human emotion?
It is important to have good body language when communicating with a horse. Much research has been done which determines horses read your emotion. The findings come from research that suggests horses could recognize emotion by reading facial expressions. The researcher presented 28 horses with photographs of an angry expression and a happy expression. When the animals saw images of angry faces, they looked at the pictures more with their left eyes. Furthermore, the angry expressions caused the horse’s heart rate to increase.
They then heard a pre-recorded human voice which was praising or scolding the horse. Horses responded to voices 1.6 to 2.0 times faster in the incongruent state.
To follow up on the study, the research team returned to the stable and used the same method to test if the response had a lasting impact. The horses got to meet the people behind the photos. This time the subjects photographed wore a neutral expression. Each of the horses remembered the subject only by their previous expression of anger or happiness.
Really this finding should come as little surprise to you. After all other animals such as dogs can respond to and remember details of human faces.
Further research from the University of Sussex shows that horses can read emotion even when they don’t know you. This latest study is published in Animal Cognition.
Understanding the importance of body language can help improve the way we interact with horses and help avoid any aggressive behavior.
Emily Davis works at Cheval Liberte as a community manager. Cheval Liberté has been designing, developing and producing stalls, internal stables, and stable equipment since 1995, Driven by their passion for horses, Cheval Liberté was founded by both riders and breeders and since 2005 this passion has been implemented in the UK, with our North Wales company being the sole importer of Cheval Liberté products for distribution and erection throughout the UK & Ireland.