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Horses are Reading Your Emotions
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Horses are Reading Your Emotions

Animals, whether big or small, are complex beings. They all have their unique traits that humans have been exploring and trying to understand for years. Of special interest are usually those animals that share a deeper bond with human beings.

While you may know of a dog’s connection with its human owner, you probably don’t know that horses are not only capable of connecting with humans on an emotional level, but they can also read your facial expressions.

They Know What You’re Feeling

The study comes from a group of psychologists at Sussex University. The same people last year determined that horses can show emotions through certain facial expressions. This new study shows that horses have the ability to differentiate between positive and negative human expressions, which is a major breakthrough as far as the connection between horses and humans is concerned.

A Glance From the Left Eye

The researchers found that a horse’s reaction to a negative human facial expression is very easily noticeable. As is often seen with dogs, horses who identify an angry human face move their heads and look at the face with their left eye. There is an increase in their heart rate as well.

The reason for glancing at an angry human face from the left eye is contributed to the fact that it is the right hemisphere of the brain that analyses stimuli that are threatening or scary, and it is from the left eye that the right hemisphere gets its visual information. So if you’re angry around your horse some day and you see it looking at you from its left eye, then you can be sure that it is reading your emotions.

Photographs Work Equally Well

The extent to which horses can understand human emotions can be realized from the fact that they can successfully identify positive and negative human expressions even from photographs.

The group of researchers got large sized photographs of strangers printed, in which they were either baring their teeth while smiling or baring their teeth with a frown. It was quite a discovery when the horses could successfully tell the difference between those expressions just as they would if a person was standing right in front of them.

Animal Behavior is Far From Trivial

Before this study, it has been found out that dogs also possess the ability to identify if a human is angry. Sheep are known to be calmed by looking at photographs of other sheep. They can even remember the faces of other sheep as well as human beings.

But this study pertaining to horses has taken all of the prior knowledge to a whole new level. Researchers speculate that the ability of reading human emotions may have been the result of evolution, or some individual horses could have learned to read the facial expressions of humans and that knowledge was then passed on through genes. Whatever the answer to this question is one thing is for certain, horses possess a much deeper understanding of human behavior than we normally give them credit for.

Disclaimer: Of Horse! and sponsors do not endorse nor validate the accuracy of a blog post. Each article is the opinion of the blogger.

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  1. jst4horses
    Horsemen, not riders, horsemen and horsewomen, know these things. Just as your dog changes to daylight saving time and back, horses do as well........how we ask ourselves. In almost forty years of equine therapy work I have known that the horses do the healing, NOT using a horse for a physical therapy bench, or a replacement for a couch in psychotherapy. I have worked with large groups of high risk youth and in just ONE three hour class many have changed their lives forever. I do not take credit for this, the horses and the youth themselves do the miracles. And horses do feel emotions..........Everyone who is around horses know that when a horse goes in the trailer, the friend horses neigh and the horse in the trailer neighs. Yet, when a horse died, the horses do NOT neigh when the dead horse is taken away in the truck for burial. How do they know? One of our favorite stories is two young girls who were with us because if it moved, they fought with it, human, animal, youth, parent, teacher..........we put them bareback on a horse. They started to fight. This old mare had been with us in equine therapy for years, and NEVER bucked, or thrown a child. Yet, she bumped up, just enough to dump both of them on the ground, well, we might say, she was upset at them fighting...........I do not think so, she turned around, and with NO history of violence to anyone ever......she calmly walked back and stepped on each of their arms. and then walked away. They sat on the ground crying and then one of them said, I think she is telling us to stop fighting. I'll take it....................Another story from stables that I love is that a VERY vicious horse was in his stall, a man came up to talk to someone, and did not realize his back was to that horse, and he backed up against the fence. The horse came over and curled his head around him like a hug...............and just stood there. Some months later, the man admitted he had really come to say good bye to the horses and was going to commit suicide that day........something in the hug from that horse changed him. He now is a volunteer with others, both first responders, and veterans with PTSD.............how did that horse know? I think we over study things. Native Americans, and many other native people know animals have many qualities we do not have, and honor those qualities............but a good article to remind people that horses are not just bicycles without wheels for our amusement.
  2. liz48170
    So true and a great article. Was just at the Arabian Horse Show and watched the riders's face and horse's face to see if I could pick the winners. The riders with smiles and ease and poise rode horses with smiles ease and poise. Riders with an OMG Oh SH*T what did I get myself into were riding horses with the OMG Oh SH*T what are you doing to me expression. I picked the later first in a huge class to quickly sort out those most likely to not win. Then started looking at the riders faces with happy horse faces to pick the top of the class, then started looking at the rest of the "stuff" that goes into judging a horse show. Got to say, it was a very long show and I got pretty good at this game in a few weeks time.
  3. MReynolds
    Love this! Thank you!

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