04 May Do Horses Like Humans? Here’s What You Need To Know
Do Horses Like Humans?
If you’ve owned a horse for a while, or you’re thinking about getting one soon, you might be wondering whether or not horses even like humans. As a lifelong equestrian, I’ve certainly asked this question myself at times, so I did some research on the topic.
Do horses like humans? Studies have shown that horses express positive emotional reactions to some humans, and negative emotional reactions to others, indicating that horses are capable of developing a strong positive bond with a human. Whether or not a horse likes a human can be impacted by their past experiences with that person as well as a person’s body language and tone of voice.
The emotional range and perception of horses are pretty incredible. If you want to learn more about how your horse perceives you, read on!
Studies Supporting That Horses Like Humans
Horses Can Reciprocate Positive Feelings From Humans
When negative emotions are being experienced, heart rhythms in both humans and horses are more erratic. When positive emotions are experienced, heart rates are more consistent.
In one study, the heart rhythms of horses and humans were analyzed over the course of various interactions with one another. The findings indicated that horses care capable of detecting when a human is expressing and projecting positive feelings towards them and is likely to reciprocate those positive feelings.
When a horse detects positive feelings, it can result in behavioral changes from them such as wanting to stay close to a person and follow them around.
Horses Like Humans With Calm and Happy Facial Expressions
Another study conducted by the Universities of Sussex and Portsmouth has concluded that horses are capable of recognizing human facial expressions, allowing them to react differently to those humans who they might perceive as a threat.
These findings indicate that horses are capable of showing positive or negative preferences to people based upon our body language when we interact with them.
Horses Like People They Remember In a Positive Light
In the facial recognition study mentioned above, horses were shown to not only recognize and react differently to positive and negative human facial expressions but that they also remembered the expressions from humans in previous interactions and reacted differently because of them.
While it might not seem like much, understanding that your horse will remember your emotional state from a previous training session with them makes it all the more important that you remain calm, cool, and collected when working with them.
Factors That Make a Horse Like Or Dislike a Human
Now that we’re familiar with some of the ways that horses perceive us, let’s look at the factors that might positively or negatively impact our relationships with horses.
Limited Interaction Resulting In a Lack of Trust
One of the greatest hindrances to a positive relationship with your horse is a lack of consistent interaction with them. I’ve been at boarding stables where you would almost never see the owners of some horses, and when you did, the interactions between the horse and owner were brief.
If you want your horse to like you, they have to know you and trust you first. If you’re serious about having a good relationship with your horse, I recommend developing a consistent schedule with time set aside for them. No matter how busy we might be with work, school, and other obligations, we can always make time for the things that matter most to us.
If you need more ideas on how to establish trust in your relationship with your horse, you can read my article here on how to tell if a horse trusts you. Gaining your horse’s trust takes a lot of time and hard work, but the benefits are well worth the effort.
Too Many Negative Emotional Interactions
I’ve always believed that horses remember more than we credit them for, and the studies above reinforce that belief. Horses are highly intelligent creatures with functioning short and longterm memories.
Understanding that their perception of us is developed over numerous encounters and how we treated them in each of those encounters makes it vital that we understand how to compose ourselves when working with horses in order to be as effective as possible.
The number one mistake beginner, (and experienced,) horse owners can make, is allowing their negative emotions to come through too strong when working with a horse.
When training a horse, always remember to project kindness, calmness, and confidence. Your horse will feed off of your emotions and remember you in a better light if you’re a source of calmness for them rather than nervousness and frustration.
One of the easiest ways to take all of the fun out of owning a horse is to set incredibly lofty goals for them, overexert both of your energies to achieve those goals, and then still falling short of them because they were unrealistic from the very beginning.
If you want your horse to like you, be intentional about breaking down your larger goals into smaller and easier to manage pieces. Doing so will help prevent both you and your horse from becoming frustrated, you’ll be less likely to overexert your horse, and you’ll be able to end each day on a positive note.
In working with horses, I’ve learned that there needs to be a balance of activity. Even if you’re just stopping in the middle of a mentally strenuous training session to give them a five-minute break, they’ll appreciate it and come back stronger and more willing to cooperate.
In a more general sense, remember to do varied activities with your horse rather than just training them non-stop. Not only will this help keep them from developing quirky and spooky behaviors, but it will also help them stay interested in their interactions with you.
An Undetermined Pecking Order
Horses in the wild have a definitive pecking order in which one horse is the leader of the others. You can typically recognize the leader of a herd because they’ll be the one that controls the movement of the other horses, particularly as it concerns food.
If you want your horse to like you, you need to establish yourself as the leader in the relationship by exerting your dominance in a kind but assertive manner. Working with a horse who doesn’t view you as the leader is a recipe for hours of frustrating work.
Because this topic is so important, I have an entire article that you can read here on recognizing and correcting disrespectful horse behaviors that will help you establish yourself as the leader with your horse.
Tips for Making a Horse Like You More
Understand and React Correctly To Your Horse’s Physical Queues
Horses, just like people, are great at non-verbal communication. Just by paying attention to their body language, you’ll be able to have a better idea of what is going on in their minds. Your horse will like you more if you can adjust your interactions with them according to what they’re thinking and feeling.
Here are a few areas you can examine to learn what your horse is thinking:
Your Horse’s Eyes
A horse’s eyes often reflect what is going on internally. A horse may be nervous or frightened if their eyes are wide, or they’re quickly darting their eyes around their environment.
Your Horse’s Ears
If your horse’s ears are facing forward they are showing interest and are alert. If they’re pressed flat against their head, they’re angry and you best keep your distance if you don’t want to be kicked. If they’re quickly turning in all directions, they may be frightened of something and searching for the source.
Your Horse’s Tail
When a horse quickly moves its tail from side to side, it is demonstrating anger or frustration. If their tail is lifted, they may be excited and full of energy, or if they’re a mare this could indicate that they’re in heat.
These are just a few of the many indicators that your horse might give you to help you discern what they’re feeling. Knowing how to customize your approach with your horse based on what they’re feeling is key if you want to take their training to the next level.
Consistently Reward Your Horse for Positive Behavior
If you want your horse to like you, be intentional about rewarding them for their positive behavior. When it comes to training, even the most subtle step in the right direction is enough reason for reward because you’re helping them understand that they’re doing what you want, and you’ll be able to build from that.
You can reward your horse using pressure and release, giving them treats, allowing them to graze, or just allowing them to have mental breaks throughout your training sessions.
Be Consistent In Your Interactions With Your Horse
As with anything in life that you want to improve, consistency is key if you want your horse to like you. Doing the right thing with your horse for one day isn’t enough. You’ll need to prove yourself worthy of your horse’s respect and affection by working with them day after day and making a continual effort to improve your own abilities as a horse owner.
Thank you for reading! If you want to keep learning, here are a few more articles that can help you improve your relationship with your horse:
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I’m a lifelong horse trainer and horseback rider who’s passionate about teaching others about the things I’ve learned. I grew up competing in numerous English horseback riding disciplines and am now a certified equine massage therapist. I currently own three horses.