Horses are amazing mammals that have played an important role in society for millions of years.1 Horses have played vital roles in transportation, agriculture, sport, competition, and even wars. These amazing creatures are considered among the most intelligent animals in the world for good reason.2 They have excellent memory and can learn quickly, such as learning to open a gate and solve problems. They are gentle but can be intimidating due to their size, but they rarely attack humans or other animals and will avoid a fight.
Speaking of humans, and given a horse’s intelligence, do horses recognize humans? While it’s hard to determine whether horses recognize humans, studies regarding this question seem to point toward yes—horses can recognize humans close to them. To further investigate, let’s dive into this question more in-depth.
Do Horses Recognize Their Owners?
Animal behaviorists conducted and published a study that indicated horses could recognize humans and distinguish humans through visual and auditory cues.3 In other words, a horse can associate a human’s voice with their face. The study was conducted by having two people stand on either side of a horse, with one person being familiar to the horse, and the other a stranger. They then played an audio recording from a hidden speaker of both the stranger’s voice and the familiar person’s voice. Incredibly, the horse looked more at the familiar person’s voice rather than the stranger’s.
Animal behaviorists conducted several studies in this manner. The purpose was to conclude if horses could differentiate between the two familiar voices and match each voice to the correct person. Most of the horses used in the experiment passed, indicating that horses use what’s called multi-modal memory, meaning they can use more than one sense to identify humans. A theory suggests that horses need to identify humans to know if they are trustworthy, as horses have a strong instinct to protect themselves from harm.
What Do Horses Think of Humans?
Horses are prey animals and are always on guard to self-protect. Our goal as humans should be to convey to a horse that we are not a threat, even though we look and smell differently and could be considered predators. Interestingly, a horse can tell rather quickly if you are a friend or foe; to be more exact, a danger on non-threatening. If they feel you are a threat, watch out! A situation of this kind can result in significant injury or even the death of a human as a result of self-defense.
If they feel you are not a threat, they will probably try to dominate you. He may push on you or resist complying with your wishes. However, not all horses will behave in this way. Horses have their own unique personalities, and if a horse is not threatened by you, he will have no problem letting you approach and pet him.
Keep in mind that even though well-trained and well-behaved horses may seem domesticated, even the gentlest of horses are still wild at heart and will use one of their three major instincts to guide them, which include a fight-or-flight response, herd instinct, and awareness and sensitivity of their surroundings.
However, horses that have been neglected or abused by a human will develop negative emotions around humans, regardless of how well you treat them after the trauma has already occurred by someone else. It takes time and patience to convey to an abused horse that you are one of the good guys, and sadly, some horses in that situation never overcome the fear of being in a human’s presence.
On a positive note, horses can most definitely form a special bond with humans who treat them well and takes care of them, as they deserve.
Tips for Keeping Your Horse Safe
Horses are gentle giants and deserve to be treated with respect. These gentle giants are even used in equine-assisted therapy due to their delicate and sweet nature. This therapy is excellent for those suffering from anxiety, depression, cerebral palsy, autism, and more.
Caring for a horse is an enormous responsibility and should not be taken lightly. It is an ongoing expense that you need to ensure you have the funds to take care of the horse properly, but owning a horse is also a rewarding experience when done correctly. A horse requires hay and access to pasture to nibble on throughout the day. They also will drink roughly 8 gallons of water per day and roughly 20 pounds of forage (grass and hay) per day. If you’re unsure how much to feed your horse, enlist an equine specialist’s help.
Groom your horse daily to remove dead hair, dirt, and dust. Grooming is an excellent opportunity to create a bond between you and your horse, and it will become a joyful experience for you both. Allow your horse to be turned out daily for exercise, and ensure your horse does not have access to toxic plants.
Horses are amazing animals that deserve to be treated with dignity and respect by humans. Studies indicate that horses can recognize humans and will remember both positive and negative emotions created by humans in their presence. The bottom line is if you take care of your horse, you will, in return, gain an enormous friend that will give you a rewarding experience.
Featured Image Credit: Lorri Lang, Pixabay