Can You Spot an Unhappy Horse?

Study: Most horse people miss the signs of negative emotional states in horses, even in those trained with “natural horsemanship” techniques.
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Can You Spot an Unhappy Horse?
According to U.K. and Danish researchers, most horse people misunderstand horses’ expressions of negative emotions. | Photo: iStock
Would you recognize an unhappy horse in a video?

You might be surprised. According to U.K. and Danish researchers, most horse people misunderstand horses’ expressions of negative emotions.

Such misunderstandings could lead to confusion and disagreements around training videos on social media. But more importantly, they’re concerning  horses’ welfare, said Catherine Bell, PhD, of the Equine Behaviour and Training Association (EBTA) near London, England.

“Perhaps the most common problems I find in my behavior work are those associated with a horse being pushed too far and the owner being unaware that the horse is too anxious or stressed to comply,” Bell said. “It’s the classic, ‘He’s not scared; he’s just being naughty or stupid.’ Owners commonly tend to wait for a horse to engage in dangerous behaviors, such as bucking, biting, or bolting, before they recognize there’s a problem. And by that point, it is a big problem

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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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