Do Horses Remember Their Owners?
We’ve all seen movies in which a horse is reunited with its owner and seems to remember exactly who they are. However, is this just a Hollywood dream? Or do horses somehow remember their owners, even after years spent apart? Understanding your horse’s response to various situations and emotions may strengthen your relationship, allowing for more productive training.
So, do horses remember their owners? Many experts agree that horses do, in fact, remember their owners. Studies performed over the years suggest that horses do remember their owners similar to the way they would remember another horse. Past experiences, memories, and auditory cues provide the horse with information as to who an individual is.
Today, we will discuss the emotional connection that can be made between a horse and its owner. We will also answer some of the most commonly asked questions regarding a horse’s emotions and response to various situations.
How Do Horses Remember Their Owners?
We now know that horses do, in fact, remember their owners. But how is this possible? Horses possess excellent memories that allow them to remember individuals for long periods of time, even after physical separation. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that a horse will remember every individual they interact with.
Much research has been done on this topic, concluding that horses are able to maintain memories of individuals with whom they experience positive interactions. Once formed, this bond is nearly unbreakable.
There are a few factors that a horse likely uses to remember their owners. First, and likely the greatest factor a horse relies upon are auditory cues. Your horse learns to associate your voice with your physical appearance. Horses also recognize the postures and movements that you typically display while you are in their presence.
Last, but not least, horses remember things by learning to recognize and expect actions and responses to happen in a certain sequence. Through years of training and interaction, your horse learns to expect responses based on your positive reinforcement and conditioning.
Because of this, a horse who has created a strong bond with their owner is likely to remember them, even if they are separated for long periods of time.
In the same way, horses also hold on to negative memories of an individual. Owners who have abused or frightened a horse create a negative bond that is not easily reversed.
If Horses Can Remember Their Owners, Do They Miss Them?
Horses learn to expect certain behaviors and routines. When a horse becomes emotionally attached to their owner, they will likely recognize when their normal routines are disrupted. They will recognize when you do not show up each day.
Oftentimes, this directly impacts their mood, willingness to eat, and the ability to engage in activities. As soon as you return, your horse bounces back to their normal routine, a sure sign that they are glad you are back.
There are sadly times when you must sell your horse. Does your horse miss you after you are separated? Many horses do seem melancholy after separating from an owner with whom they had developed a strong bond. However, after a few weeks in their new home, they are likely to become more accustomed to their new surroundings.
However, a horse will not forget an owner with whom they have a strong connection. Horses can recognize owners from the sound of their voice, even after years apart.
Does a Horse Recognize and Remember Their Name?
How important is your horse’s name? Should you ever rename a horse or are they attached to the original name they were given? This is another topic that is highly debated within the equestrian community.
Many horse lovers believe that a horse is simply responding to your voice and the tone in which you say their name and that if you maintain a consistent tone of voice but substitute different names, they will still respond.
However, there are horse owners who believe their horse does remember and respond to their name. Many individuals have conducted studies where they yelled a horse’s name into a field where several horses had gathered. In these studies, it seemed as if only the horse who was called would respond to the auditory cue.
It seems as if the general consensus is that horses who hear their names often seem to respond to that auditory cue. Horses that are not often called by name, on the other hand, do not seem to recognize or remember their name.
Are Horses Who Remember Their Owners Sad If They’re Sold?
I believe much of this depends on the unique circumstances. For instance, a horse that has developed a close bond with their owner may show signs of sadness when they are sold. In the same way, a horse that is separated from the other horses they have grown close to may also display signs of sadness. However, once they become accustomed to their new home, these negative responses are likely to diminish.
Horses that have not developed close attachments to humans or other horses will likely not display any negative emotional or physical responses to being sold to a new owner.
Do Horses Who Remember Their Owners Show Affection?
If horses recognize and remember their owners, miss them when they are absent, and develop negative responses upon separation, it makes sense that they display their affection as well!
There are, in fact, several very clear signs that your horse shows your affection. However, they may not be what you think! You can check out my full article here on ways horses show affection.
Having your horse approach you unprompted is a sure sign that they both recognize and appreciate you. Horses easily pick up on human emotion. If you are stressed, frustrated, and angry, they will associate you with those emotions. However, if you are calm and relaxed, they will associate you with those positive emotions and will gravitate towards you when you are present.
If you have trouble getting your horse to come to you, you can find some help here in my article for training a horse to come to you.
You may not think that your horse following your instructions is a clear sign of affection. However, as equestrians, we realize that horses have a herd mentality. They are constantly looking to establish dominance.
When you develop a close bond with your horse and establish yourself as the leader, they will respect your wishes. This respect will create a willingness to following your instructions without question.
Relaxing Around You
When your horse trusts and respects you, they will allow themselves to relax when you are near. Some horses develop this bond more quickly than others. I have had plenty of experiences with horses who were originally jumpy and aggressive that slowly relaxed after I intentionally developed that trust with them.
Do Horses Remember Other Horses?
If horses remember their owners, it makes sense that they would remember other horses too, right? We have all seen stories about horses who were once best friends being reunited after long separations. There is no doubt that they remember each other and the bond they have.
Not only do horses remember each other, but they also show affection to the horses they have close bonds with. Some of these are similar to the way horses show affection towards their owners. As with humans, horses often spend time with the horses that they get along with.
Of course, one of the most obvious signs of affection between horses is mutual grooming. This is a clear sign that the horses trust each other and have developed a close bond.
Why Is This Important?
So, what difference does this information make? How should it impact the way you treat your horse? Knowing that your horse develops memories based on both positive and negative responses should encourage you to remain patient and calm while you are around your horse. There is nothing worse than developing a bad reputation with the horse that you love.
Additionally, it’s nice to know that your horse feels similarly towards you as you do towards them. Knowing that my horse likely misses me in my absence makes me want to spend even more time with them. Understanding the body language and communication methods of my horse allows me to work with them more effectively.
Owning a horse and developing a close bond with them is truly one of the most rewarding tasks. The relationship you form with your horse can be strong enough to last for a lifetime.
How do I discourage my horse’s bad behavior habits?
The way you respond to your horse’s bad habits plays a large role in the relationship you will be able to form with them. If you respond out of anger and frustration, your horse will develop a negative memory. However, it’s crucial that you don’t ignore these bad habits.
First, try to understand where these bad habits are coming from. Are they responding to a change in their surroundings? Are they suffering from an illness or injury? Understanding the message they are sending you through their responses will help you address the problem.
Second, develop a relationship and remain consistent. Dealing with bad behavior habits can get exhausting. However, the most effective way to correct these habits is through consistency and relationship. Your horse will begin to respect you more once you are established as a trustworthy leader.
You can read my full guide here on Disrespectful Horse Behaviors and How to Correct Them.