Can Horses Can Smell Happiness?

It’s long been said that dogs can smell fear, but can horses? Scientists report that human body odors contain chemosignals that can convey emotional information to horses—specifically both happiness and fear.

Drs. Gün Semin, Anna Scandurra, Biagio D’Aniello, Paolo Baragli and Antonio Lanatà reviewed multiple studies and concluded that the horses used in the research showed different activation of their autonomic nervous systems depending on if the human they were exposed to was happy or fearful. The researchers report that humans also react to the body odor of other humans, but that this form of communication is not consciously recognized.

Horses have been a part of human history for thousands of years and have acquired skills that allow them to communicate with humans by learning human gestures and words. They are also able to glean understanding of how humans feel by their facial expressions. Research has shown that horses are able to synchronize their heart rate and other physiological measures when in contact with humans. The review team was interested in learning if horses had additional means of understanding human emotions.

The scientists reviewed a small study completed by Antonio Lanata that showed that human body odors triggered systematic sympathetic and parasympathetic changes in horses. The review team noted that there are two possible reasons for this reaction in horses: One is that the odors produced are the same in each species, which is why they activate the same reactions; the other is that the horse’s responses were acquired during the socialization process and the horse has become sensitive to the emotion-induced odor.

No matter which reason, the review team noted that this olfactory communication between species has provided horses with warning signals that have helped horses both survive and reproduce.

Read the full study here.

Read more at HorseTalk.

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