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Those Incredible Equines: Horses Can Recognize Human Emotions

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Have you ever noticed a difference in your horse on days when you’re feeling sad? Maybe he’s softer and quieter with you – it almost seems like he knows you’re upset. And the same can be true of days when you’re feeling on top of the world as you enjoy a canter across a field. Your horse might throw in an exuberant buck or two in his excitement.

Now research confirms what us horsey folks have known for years: Horses can recognize human emotions. But what’s even more interesting is that they can recognize them through facial expressions. Horses are masters of reading body language, but they understand how human facial expressions for happiness and anger.

A team of psychologists at the University of Sussex, UK studied how 28 horses reacted when shown photos of angry and happy human faces. When the horses looked at photos of angry expressions, their heart rates increased and they exhibited more stress-related behaviors than they did while looking at photos of happy facial expressions. Horses also looked at the angry expressions using mainly their left eye, which they also do when viewing something threatening.

There are two potential explanations for the fact that horses can read human facial expressions. The first is that as horses have evolved, they’ve developed the ability to read facial expressions and this ability is inherited. Alternatively, a horse may learn to recognize facial expressions based out of experience during his life.

So how is this study beneficial? It shows how incredibly attuned horses are, and not only can they read our body language, they can read our facial expressions. This is something to remember when greeting your horse during a visit. horse & riderIf you’re stressed and upset about something, take a few moments and try to relax.
Make an effort to smile and to turn your mind to the work that you’re there to do with your horse. Even if you have to force a smile initially, you’d be surprised at how this physical movement can improve your mood. And by starting your session with your horse off on a positive note, you’ll be setting yourself up for an enjoyable ride. Yet another way having horses benefits your life!

Want to know more about this study? You can read more on

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