Study: Horses More Relaxed Around Nervous Humans

One study found that horses had lower heart rates around nervous humans as compared to calm people.

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Editor’s note: This article is part of’s ongoing coverage of topics presented at the 2012 International Society of Equitation Science conference, held July 18-20 in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Horse people have long said that horses can pick up cues about how nervous or how calm the humans around them are. Now, according to a group of equitation scientists, scientific evidence is beginning to develop behind that theory.

During a presentation at the 8th International Society of Equitation Science conference, held July 18-20 in Edinburgh, Scotland, Katrina Merkies, PhD, associate professor and equine program coordinator at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, explained that horses loose in a round pen react differently to calm versus nervous humans. And interestingly enough, they show the calmest reactions toward the most stressed humans.

"In modern times in the Western world, horses have become companions–and even more so, friends," Merkies said. "But a new hot topic is using horses in therapy, and so it’s important to know how horses react to people who aren’t familiar with them or even frightened of them

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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