Are Horses Emotional

Danielle Fletcher
• Saturday, 31 October, 2020
• 18 min read

I’ve always thought that horses are simple animals, unable to reason, and have no conscious perception of ‘self.’ I thought that surely such a simple creature cannot possibly process the complex information involved with emotions. In my search for more information and hopefully some ‘scientific’ answers, my eyes were opened to the possibility that I may have been wrong.

horse emotions they human said beliefs drive care horses jealous sense pony behaviors examples
(Source: thehorse.com)


If a horse does truly possess emotions, then how does this impact the way we train, house, ride, and interact with them? My quest for answers led me to a wonderful book, “Animals in Translation,” by one of my favorite authors, Dr. Temple Gran din (with Catherine Johnson).

Dr. Gran din’s work primarily revolves around the cattle slaughter industry; she has done a lot for the humane treatment of these animals. In this book Dr. Gran din makes a very interesting case for animals having emotions.

Simple emotions are fear, rage, discovery, confusion, gain, loss, happiness and depression. Complex emotions are shame, guilt, embarrassment, greed, respect, contempt.

Research has shown that the measure of intelligence is based on the number of folds in the brain in addition to the brain-size-to-body ratio of the organism. This alone doesn’t make the horse intelligent or unintelligent, just unique to its species.

However, when done improperly it can have far-reaching adverse effects on the horse’s psyche and emotional state. I often wonder if natural horsemanship is such a great thing, since there is still such an over-abundance of horses with behavioral problems.

horse emotional
(Source: www.youtube.com)

I literally get hundreds of emails every month from owners with horse problems. I think the obvious reason lies in the misunderstanding of the horse’s psychological makeup.

I have spent years studying how horses learn, how they interact with humans, and why so many common misbehavior are so prevalent. This miscommunication can lead to many of the horse’s emotions we are talking about that so often then progress to behavioral problems.

Your horse is a living, feeling creature that when pressed into a stressful environment will do what it thinks is best for itself and not for you. These misbehavior are what the horse thinks it needs in that very moment and what it feels will make the pressure go away.

It is your responsibility to understand that you may be causing many of the misbehavior your horse is expressing! As I think back to time spent with my mentor Dr. Andrew McLean (who developed and manages the Australian Equine Behavior Center and holds a PhD in horse training psychology), I am reminded of our conversation about the emotional horse.

For more information on Ryan Gingrich’s Connective Horsemanship program, call 800.359.4090. Perhaps the most famous racehorse in history was Man O’ War, undisputed king of the turf during the gambling-happy roaring 1920s.

emotions horses human read respond
(Source: thescienceexplorer.com)

He was a large and imposing horse, and even when he was alive he was a tourist attraction, drawing visitors from across the country to pay homage at his farm. Man O’ War lived nobly and developed a unique relationship with his groom of many, many years.

Habit, the horse’s constant companion, died suddenly in October 1947. Man O’ War was so grief-stricken that he pined away, wouldn’t eat, and was obviously crestfallen as he hung his head in the stall, knowing that his friend would not return.

The horses, long-time friends, are thrilled to see each other; they squeal in delight, careen around in glee, roll ecstatically and vigorously scratch each other’s backs in greeting. Studies of animal emotion were further thwarted by science’s credo to adhere to observable and measurable behaviors.

Some researchers have attempted to measure equine emotions by asking their owners what their horses are feeling (Morris et al., 2008), but this is fraught with subjective interpretation. Equine researchers, Lisa Later and Markus Fend from the University of Tübingen in Germany, found that horses exhibit a consistent and predictable behavioral pattern in their escalation of fear to a novel object.

Were strongly correlated with physiological measures of fear (heart rate), suggesting that with this emotion, at least, we can rely on our assumptions about horses behaviors. It is clearly in our best interests to train our horses pre-emptively to tolerate more and more novel objects and situations in order to avert the extreme panic reactions from 1,200 lbs.

horses emotional lives horse curiosity senior
(Source: seniorhorserehab.com)

Thus, the hard data tells us that horses most certainly experience fear and probably joy (or the least a physiological state of pleasurable arousal). Researchers have observed that horses living in natural circumstances engage in allografting (mutual and synchronous, biting around the withers and neck) with particular others and that these partnerships (dare I say “friendships?”) Are enduring.

Allografting seems to have calming properties by lowering heart rate, decreasing cortisol levels, and increasing endorphin production. “Attachment” in this context refers to the theory developed by psychiatrist John Bowl by in the early ’60s to explain an infant’s tendency to seek proximity and form strong bonds with a caregiver who provided protection, comfort and support.

Bowl by believed that this attachment system evolved over time and arose instinctively to increase the infant’s chance of survival. Additionally, since in many modern equine management systems there is limited or no horse-to-horse tactile contact, this bond with a human owner may be particularly critical.

For example, Carole Rural and her associates from the University of Rennes in France found, not surprisingly, that horses who suffered chronic back pain were more aggressive toward humans than those who were pain-free. What is more surprising, was that in her sample of 59 school horses from three riding centers, with a light to moderate work load, 73 per cent were severely affected with vertebral pain.

Horses seemingly immediate forgiveness in this regard speaks to the unlikeliness of their experiencing the kind of anger that we do, that can translate to feelings of jealousy, hatred or revenge. Marc Benioff, a cognitive ethologist, notes that it is not reasonable to assume that complex emotions evolved suddenly and uniquely in humans with no precursors in other animals.

emotions horses human read
(Source: www.inverse.com)

For example Benioff studies dogs’ play behavior and argues that they exhibit a rudimentary kind of morality that incorporates a set of rules of social engagement. Justice, cooperation, fairness and trust make the play work even when dogs are mismatched in size and strength.

Bullies, who do not abide by the rules, are ostracized from group play, suggesting that dogs have a code of ethics that values fairness and cooperation. Researchers have suggested that horses play to learn the roles and behaviors that they will later need to live cooperatively in a herd.

Benioff maintains that we need to make interpretive leaps when trying to understand animal emotions and criticizes science’s reductionist perspective to that of observable behaviors. In his groundbreaking research of the ’60s, Paul Human and his associates asked participants to describe what emotion was being expressed in a series of facial photographs.

When Human took his research to a remote area of Papua New Guinea, where participants had no prior Western culture exposure, they too identified the same six emotions. Paul Morris found that humans’ attributions about animals’ (including horses ’) emotional states predicted future behavior quite accurately (2008).

As Fran's de Waal so aptly commented, “Sometimes I read about someone saying with great authority that animals have no intentions and no feelings, and I wonder, ‘Doesn’t this guy have a dog?’” Benioff makes a credible argument in saying that we need to stretch beyond what is directly observable in interpreting animal emotion, and there is evidence to suggest that we are reasonably skilled at doing so.

emotions horses flickr westfall greg learn horsenetwork
(Source: horsenetwork.com)

Science has good reasons to be cautious about anthropomorphism (or attributing human thoughts, feelings and intentions to non-human animals). From the scientific perspective, our openness to numerous interpretations is compromised when we enclose that observable data into one fixed meaning.

When we say that the reunited horses of this article’s opening are galloping joyously, we may miss a multitude of signals being exchanged between the two that might lead us down altogether different and productive research paths. From the horse’s perspective, anthropomorphism can compromise his welfare when our interpretations of his behaviors are biased by our own goals and ambitions.

Much of horses behavioral repertoire (both desirable and undesirable) is typically ascribed to their personality or emotional perspective. It may be possible that horses are capable of complex secondary emotions, and perhaps future sophisticated brain imaging techniques will give us more insight here.

Horses exhibit conflict behaviors or “misbehavior” when there is disconnect between what is being demanded and their physical and psychological ability to comply. We would do well to discover this conflict first before we leap to conclusions about our horses problematic attitude, poor work ethic or a personality turned bad.

Emotions are energy in motion and are a result of your or the horse’s state, psychology, thoughts, and feelings. Emotions have the power to create or destroy, and we have the option to choose which.

horse emotions calypso eventers farm
(Source: calypsofarmeventers.blogspot.com)

There are other factors to consider that can influence your horse’s emotions and patterns. The limbic system is considered the center of emotions in the brain, it has a direct connection to the olfactory nerve which is responsible for the sense of smell.

Have you ever had a smell bring back memories or strike an emotion? It receives input and signals from the entire body and senses.

Often times even if a pain or stress trigger is removed, the emotional response or pattern can stay, having a negative impact on the horse’s health, wellness, and behavior. Combine these efforts with the use of essential oils and you can help cleanse and reprogram negative emotional and behavioral patterns with positive ones that will support the horse’s physical, mental, and emotional state.

In my content, I share the story of supporting my mare through health concerns, naturally, after traditional methods had failed and euthanasia became the only recommendation veterinarians had for her. Please share via your favorite social media page to help us on our mission to promote horse health and wellness.

For example, Charles Darwin compared facial expressions in humans to those in animals back in the 1800s. That said, it makes me somewhat emotional to learn that there are at least a few people out there interested enough in my opinion to ask: here goes.

horse emotions
(Source: www.horseandhound.co.uk)

If you have a horse, or work around them, it’s pretty easy to come up with a convincing answer to the question. Far be it from me to suppose that the persistent drumbeat of, “Easy, easy, it’ll be OK,” the anxious look, or the incessant jerking of an almost palsied lead rope has anything to do with raising the horse’s level of apprehension.

That is, such things as the repeatability of responses to novel or unpleasant stimuli, or the ease of learning tasks. But these interpretations may or not be an accurate reflection of what’s actually going on inside the horse’s head.

Nevertheless, in trying to determine if horses have emotions, we are limited both by our own perspective and, perhaps more importantly, by language. When people use words like “love” or “anger” or “fear,” they describe a wide range of actual emotion and thought.

ASIDE: Here’s the whole quote: “The eyes are the mirror of the soul and reflect everything that seems to be hidden; and like a mirror, they also reflect the person looking into them.” That quote is attributed to Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, but the sentiment appears to be a lot older. Is quoted as saying, ‘Ut imago est anime volts sic indices could’ (The face is a picture of the mind as the eyes are its interpreter).

The results weren’t consistent, but eye wrinkling did relax during grooming, and increase during food competition. Photographs from the 1862 book Mechanism de la Physiognomies Humane by Guillaume Duchess.

emotions horse
(Source: posercontent.com)

Through electric stimulation, determined which muscles were responsible for different facial expressions. So, “Do horses experience sensations of fear, love, hate, loneliness, etc.

Plus, if even is we got a confirmed, scientific answer, people would most likely discount it anyway if it didn’t agree with what they already thought (“What, horses don’t love? They get scared by things that seem silly to some people, like a shadow or a weird sound the wind makes.

You may not know that horses can feel angry, sad, left out, and jealous just like people. For example, if I haven't seen my horse Cody for a couple of weeks, when I do come he won't walk up to me or even face me.

Instead, he will give me a brief, sour looking glance over his shoulder and then face his rear to me and run away when I walk up. When one of the horses is separate from their herd, they get anxious, and if they are left too long by themselves they get depressed, not wanting to eat, and they get a sad look in their eyes that goes to my heart.

When Cody's sister had to be kept by herself for weeks because of a problem with her foot, she got very thin and depressed. There are times when I felt very heavy with sadness or when I had been sick and was still not that strong, and they responded with much more than their usual gentleness and would look at me with beautifully, calm sweet eyes that appeared to be full of empathy.

horses expressions facial humans study identical nearly
(Source: www.huffingtonpost.com)

You just have to spend a lot of time with them and be sensitive to what they are telling you about themselves and you will find out what amazing creatures they are. Report this Content This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

9 November 2020 A mural of the President of the United States, Donald Trump which has been painted on the side of Arlington Mill arts hub in Salford, Manchester 7 November 2020 D-Day veteran Jim Heavy, 95, from Manchester who is taking part in the Royal British Legion's doorstep silence for Remembrance.

1 November 2020 Shoppers queue outside Ikea in Bailey, West Yorkshire, after Boris Johnson announced a new national lockdown will come into force in England next week Horses which had been presented with a picture of an angry model spent longer viewing them in the flesh with their left eye, which sends information to the right brain hemisphere, where potential threats are processed.

Those which had been shown a happy model gazed for longer with their right eye, which is linked to the part of the brain specialized for more positive reactions. Crucially, the human participants in the study did not know which of their pictures the horses had been shown, avoiding the risk of them giving off subconscious signals.

Being in the barn grooming, feeding, and otherwise caring for our horses reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and improves overall health. Yet, it is the companionship with our equine partners that is the foundation of our growth in relationship to these animals.

emotional bond human horse horses bob theguardian portraits stunning tabor
(Source: theguardian.com)

According to PATH International, the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, there are many types of “equine-assisted activities.” In its broadest sense, any interaction between a person and a horse is an equine-assisted activity. It is a treatment which uses horses to reach rehabilitative goals that are bounded by a medical professional’s scope of practice.

Equine-Assisted Therapy is not an activity run by local horse clubs, church groups, or trainers. Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy, which is used by addiction treatment facilities, veterans’ groups, and trauma centers, is always overseen by a licensed mental health professional.

Addicts, the population I work with, often exclaim, “They’re so big!” Indeed, as all horse-people know, trying to get a thousand-pound animal to do what you want is no easy task. Because of these qualities, horses can be used to help people heal from a variety of psychological issues.

Addicts and other trauma survivors have to learn how to identify their emotions in order to work through them. Perhaps a plastic bag blows into the arena during a session, startling the horses.

A client who has experienced child or domestic abuse might break down in tears upon seeing the horses frightened. Any of these kinds of reactions is rich material for talk therapy and can be worked through immediately or in future sessions.

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(Source: www.horse-canada.com)

We earn wages to buy feed and tack and maintain horse properties. Whether it is raising children or going to an office, factory, or running a business, we get up early and show up on time.

We listen to our friends, show up for our families, and provide service to our communities. Working hard and showing up in a healthy way are skills that can be learned by engaging with horses.

One common treatment technique for those who were abused as children is to put the (now adult) individual in with a large horse and allow them to interact. Very often, the person will break down in tears and say something like, “I’ve never been treated this kindly by anything so big.” This is an experience the client can then take into the human world.

Equine-Assisted Therapy, particularly Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy, can have positive results for those who are recovering from substance abuse, trauma, depression, or a number of other psychological issues. It can help individuals develop a work ethic, identify and process feelings, and learn how to trust.

Although it makes you feel good inside that she’s so eager to greet you, a question keeps popping into your head: Does she really have emotional attachment to me or does she just equate my presence with all those free, crisp carrots? Philosopher Rene Descartes once argued that because animals could not be proven to have feelings, they should be regarded as automatons that acted mechanically.

horses human emotional humans read non expressions biology animals study emotion facial according emotions memory sci remember domestic identify moment
(Source: www.sci-news.com)

A few centuries later, George John Romans (a student of Charles Darwin) argued for “invective knowledge,” or that you could infer what was going on inside someone’s mind by observing their reactions to particular circumstances and by knowing how another feels in the same situation. I’d argue passionately about how horses have their own unique motivations for their actions, but he’d come back with how that same behavior could occur automatically, without emotional drive.

For this reason, ascribing human emotion to animal behavior is considered to be unscientific and is generally not done. Seeking food, water, shelter and mates can all be accounted for by the drives to survive and reproduce.

In my own horses, I’ve observed behavior at times that does not seem to fit an explanation by the two basic drives. For example, one of my mares would act distressed and stop eating whenever her pasture mate was removed for long time periods.

Many of you are familiar with Yoko, the gorilla who learned sign language with Dr. Francine Patterson and had a seemingly loving relationship with her orange tabby kitten, Ball. So it is possible that their emotional lives might be much more basic than ours, felt strongly and simply, at the moment and without great complexity.

If primates (not including us) show a capacity to express specific emotions using the language we teach them to communicate with, then might it also be possible that other nonhuman animals, such as horses, also experience similar feelings? If the horse acts in a way that seems frightened, we can assume he is afraid of whatever is happening around him and can handle the situation accordingly.

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(Source: www.scoopnest.com)

When we as humans disregard our horse’s emotional well-being, it leads to a host of problems that can be avoided simply by just giving credit where it’s due. We use cookies to help personalize content, tailor and measure ads, and provide a safer experience.

Horse lovers have long believed that their trusty steeds are the smartest animals in the world, but skeptics would be doubtful. While we most often compare them to dogs when asking ‘are horses intelligent?’ This is, in fact, not a fair comparison.

So those stories of horses being over cuddly when their owners are upset or refusing to come over to you when you’re grumpy aren’t just coincidence, after all. All of these show that horses learn via conditioning, and that through trial and error they can figure out the correct response to a question or situation.

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