Study Shows Horses Relax In Presence Of ‘Their’ People

An Italian study has objectively shown that horses can recognize individual people familiar to them, highlighting the importance of handler familiarity in the horse-human bond. Horses are generally relaxed when hanging out with humans they know.

Drs. Chiara Scopa, Alberto Greco, Laura Contalbrigo, Elisabetta Fratini, Antonio Lanatà, Enzo Pasquale Scilingo and Paolo Baragli noted that horses can determine if a person is familiar or unfamiliar by both vocal and visual cues. Horses are most likely to engage with someone who is familiar to them; they form long-lasting memories of these people and can recognize them long after their last encounter.

Horses then classify humans based off the interactions they have as either positive, negative or neutral. The research team noted that though the human-horse relationship has been investigated though behavioral analysis, they recommended that physiological indicators be considered for an objective assessment of emotional responses.

They hypothesized that long-term, positive relationships with humans would impact a horse’s emotion regulation. The team looked specifically at heart rate variability of 23 healthy horses when they interacted with both familiar and unfamiliar handlers.

The team used 22 people, 12 of them familiar to the horses and 10 unfamiliar people. A baseline heart rate was taken before each person entered the stall and stood near the door for five minutes. The horse could see and smell the person, but could move around. The person then groomed the horse for 2.5 minutes on each side.

The researchers found that the horses appeared more relaxed while physically interacting with familiar handlers; this was especially noticeable during right-side grooming. They concluded that repeated positive interactions with a person are probable triggers for positive emotions during interactions with the same person.

Read the study here.

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