Horse Emotions, Human Beliefs, and How They Drive Care

Researchers found that many owners believe horses have emotions—even complex ones. However, the paradox, they say, is that people continue to act in ways that cause presumably negative emotions in horses.
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horse emotions
The study team said survey participants gave examples of why they think a horse can be happy, jealous, or sad, and respondents said they're aware that things owners and caretakers do (or don't do) to their animals lead to these emotions. | Photo: iStock

A horse with a sense of humor. The grumpy old broodmare. The perpetually mischievous pony. Equestrians use countless emotionally charged phrases to describe their horses. So it might come as no surprise that, in a recent study, researchers determined that many owners are convinced that horses are capable of emotions—sometimes even complex ones.

The paradox, however, is that even though people have these beliefs and know their own actions can affect these emotions, they continue to act in ways that cause presumably negative emotions in horses, said researcher Maria J. Hotzel, PhD, of the Federal University of Santa Catarina Laboratory of Applied Ethology and Animal Welfare, in Florianópolis, Brazil.

“We know people regard animals in general as sentient, and that has been shown all over the world,” she said. “But what was interesting is that through many of the examples our survey participants gave us of why they think a horse can be happy, jealous, or sad, they let us know that they are aware that things owners and caretakers do (or do not do) to their animals lead to these emotions

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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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