It is difficult to find in the animal kingdom a more elegant creature than a horse. Surprisingly, the character of this animal is able to convey even more nobility than it already does its appearance. Among its many qualities it is said that the horse is able to perceive our emotions. Is it true?
For many centuries the prejudice that the only valid form of intelligence was the human one was fed. Fortunately, technological development has allowed veterinary science to demonstrate the remarkable cognitive and sensory capacity of animal instinct.
Since classical mythology, some animals were held in high regard because of their sensory abilities. Peasant people already at the time claimed that dogs were able to smell fear while horses could sense our emotions.
Among the various hypotheses, one question seems to stand out: can science ever prove that horses are able to intuit our emotions? Or will we come to the conclusion that this is an interpretation that man has constructed by projecting his own self on these animals?
Is it possible to intuit emotions?
In the beginning, many mammals were recognized as having the ability to show empathy for their own kind. Studies on this subject performed on dolphins proved to be fundamental to confirm this thesis, as well as to give the go ahead to studies on other species.
In recent decades there has been a remarkable development in terms of knowledge on the empathic abilities of dogs towards their owners. The attention of some recent scientific studies, on the contrary, has shifted to the deepening of the social and psychic level of horses.
It was not difficult to observe how horses are able to show empathy towards their own kind, but also towards dogs, donkeys and mules. Just as they are able to assume facial expressions and characteristic verses depending on the context in which they are found.
These data already represented an important signal with respect to the sensitive ability of the horses. And yet, that piece was still lacking that could prove this theory definitively, as well as the ability to measure the reactions of horses in front of different human emotions.
Is there any scientific evidence that horses perceive our emotions?
At the moment, scientists already recognize the sensitivity of horses and their ability to establish emotional ties with humans. But from there to accepting that horses perceive our emotions, there is a big difference.
The good news is that many scientific studies have already succeeded in equating horses with dogs in terms of recognizing human emotions.
Among these, the most relevant is the project carried out by the University of Sussex. In this study the reactions of horses in front of different expressions of the human face were observed.
In front of friendly expressions, the animals showed themselves sociable and calm, without any particular physical alterations. In front of angry expressions, however, the horses registered an acceleration of the heart rhythm and turned the muzzle, highlighting their right eye.
Details of the horse’s face
The right eye of mammals transmits stimuli directly to the right side of the brain. It is there that information is processed to generate the reaction impulse. This explains why, when faced with the expressive change of the face, a horse immediately offers its right eye.
In popular wisdom, the horse’s right eye is rightly known as “the bad eye”. It is said that he uses this intimidating gaze to impose himself when he feels threatened. It therefore consists of a self-defense mechanism.
It is now also recognized that horses demonstrate apprehension through negative changes in their behavior and in the way they interact. To signal the perception of danger, the horses turn and / or incline the head to fix the ground.
By comparing the results of the study with these behavioral characteristics specific to horses, Sussex scholars were able to highlight their great sensory ability. Their way of acting allows us to suppose that they are capable of reading the emotions of the human face.
The reactions analyzed
All the examples analyzed demonstrate similar reactions, which excludes the possibility that such reactions were due to the previous training received by a particular specimen. Horses have developed this magnificent ability to survive and coexist during the evolution of their species.
According to scholars, the response of horses to different human expressions is the key to proving that horses perceive our emotions, and could represent the starting point to demonstrate how instinct is basically a form of cognitive intelligence.
Whether it is for popular wisdom or scientific research, it is worth paying attention to the behavior of animals. If horses sense our emotions, they can help us develop emotional intelligence and advance on the path to self-knowledge.