Horses Can Read Negative Emotions in Humans

The human-horse relationship dates back to centuries ago. In fact, by 3000 BC, there is evidence that horses had started being used for transport. Years after that, horses played very significant roles in helping out during warfare, in plowing machines, pulling of carriages and in construction. The domestication of horses became more popular with horse riding and people keeping horses in their homes for their beauty.

Did you know that humans and horses are able to communicate through emotion?

It is a fact that the more someone interacts with a horse, the better they become at being able to read their emotions. It is no wonder that experienced riders can tell what is going on when a horse flicks its tail or makes expressions by their eyes.

It was discovered that horses could understand some of the emotions being experienced by humans. For instance, a horse may be able to tell when one is nervous or sad. The Equus caballus, otherwise described as the modern horse, is way friendlier compared to the horses that existed years ago before the domestication of horses.

The ability of horses to comprehend human emotion is attributed to the fact that they used to live in bands. The bands would ordinarily be inclusive of different types of horses such as stallions and fillies. Given that they were very close to each other, the horses were able to form relationships. It is said that it is at this point that horses started being able to learn and understand emotions. In the same light, horses can be able to form relationships with humans and can thus tell differences in touch, how stiff a rider is or the tone when one speaks.

Interesting right?

Well, it gets even more interesting as the Biology Letters paper reported that horses have the ability to as well read human facial expressions. Up until this announcement was made, dogs were the only animals which were able to depict this ability. For a long time, most of us believed the myth that horses do not have good sight. The latest revelation, however, proves the contrary.

Thanks to the study that the University of Sussex did on the horse’s ability to understand facial expressions, you and I are better off smiling the next time a horse is close by. The chances are that if you went close to a horse with a grin on your face, you might get kicked. This is because they were able to prove that horses can indeed distinguish expressions made by humans.

During their study, they exposed 28 horses to two sets of photographs. In one, a man was smiling while on the other picture had a man expressing anger. The results indicated that when shown the picture with a negative expression, the horses looked through their left eye. This is a typical response, in dogs as well, showing that the animal is using its right part of the brain and is preparing to engage. Also, they observed that in that situation, there was an increase in the heart rate.

The research, which was led by Amy Smith, indicated that there is a possibility that the horses were applying the acquired ancestral skill to distinguish the various expressions. Ordinarily, a horse makes communication by making sounds like humming, twitches or sighs. However, an earlier study by the same university concluded that horses could make facial expressions.

While humans can make 27 expressions on their face, the horse is not doing badly off at 17 different facial expressions. Whereas little is known about how many expression a wild animal can make, the chimpanzee is said to be able to make 14 distinct emotions.

It was, however, pointed out that the horses which were involved in this study came from a riding school. This might have given them an added advantage at being able to decipher the different facial expressions as they frequently interact with humans. It should be noted that research conducted on the ability of dogs to read expressions led to the conclusion that the more familiar the dog is to a human, the better the dog will be at reading their expressions.

It is fascinating to learn about the shared language humans have with horses. It comes as no surprise that horses have been linked to being therapeutic as evident by stories from the art belonging to earlier human generations.

It is fascinating to know that horses and humans share communication through emotions and facial expressions. With such knowledge, the interaction between humans and horses will get definitely better.