Humans and horses have existed together for thousands of years, and during that time many humans have felt a very deep connection to them. Horses haven’t just been used for farming and transportation over the years, but for quality companionship as well. Many horse owners feel as though their horses can understand them, and their emotions, in the same way that another human could.
This said, it is no surprise that many horse owners feel a connection to their horses on a deeper level, relying on them for comfort during difficult times and companionship during the happier times. Up until now, this may have been viewed as wishful thinking on behalf of the horse owner as no real scientific evidence has ever produced proving otherwise.
A recent study now shows that idea of horses understanding our emotions may not be too far fetched.
Researchers from the University of Sussex and University of Portsmouth have found that not only can horses recognize human faces and expressions, but they can also understand the range of emotions human experience.
Photographs of humans making various facial expressions would play a key role in the study. During the study, researchers used the photographs showing a variety of human expressions to the horses. They observed the eye movements of the horses to see how they reacted to each expression. When the horses were shown photos of neutral expressions, they did not show much of a reaction. When shown photos of angry expressions, the horses showed a similar reaction to being threatened or anxious.
In order to control the study, the researchers showed the horses photos and tracked their eye movements before viewing the photo themselves. This way, the researcher would not make their own facial expression in response to the picture. During the test, the reaction of the animal would result solely on the photograph.
Professor Karen McComb from the University of Sussex feels that this study doesn’t just show that horses can read human emotion, but they can also retrieve the memory later. When the horses observed certain facial expressions, they could recall the expression when meeting the person again at a later time. This was evident in the behavior shown by the horse during the second encounter.
No longer do horse enthusiasts have to wonder if horses can really sense and understand what they are feeling. Thanks to researchers at the University of Sussex and the University of Portsmouth, we now know that horses are capable of understanding more than we may have originally given them credit for.
So the next time you find yourself wondering if your horse really understands you, consider this study. Keeping this study in mind can help you be more mindful of the negative emotions you exhibit around your horse, and can help you understand how their brains work just a little bit more.
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To learn more about how horses are able to understand human emotions, check out the study in full. You can read the full published study in Current Biology.