Horses may understand human emotion, especially anger

Side view of a head of a brown horse, wearing a halter. The eye looks a bit sad.

Enlarge / The horse is sad that you shouted at it. (credit: Eric LaMontagne)

Horses. To some people, a horse is a beautiful thing, and they love them. I am in the camp that regards them as random bone breakers, possessing four iron-shod clubs designed to deal damage at the whim of the maddened equine brain. This is because my only experience of horses involves leaving them at high speed to be greeted by an unyielding turf.

But, as one of our few domesticated species, horses have evolved to live with us. While I might not understand them, is it possible they understand me? A small study performed by a group of British researchers suggests that they can respond to emotion in voices.

Cows vs. goats

Allow me to interject some ignorant ramblings at this point. I am not in the “animals are all instinct” camp. I spent a lot of time driving small herds of cows and flocks of sheep without the aid of a fast bike or farm dogs. When you are alone like that, you really rely on the animal—somehow—understanding what you want it to do. Small herds of cows, for instance, when offered a choice between going through a gate (and into the unknown) and charging off down the fence line to apparent freedom, will often go in the direction that you point. This happens even when they are clearly nervous about going through the gate. When the cows don’t go through, you know it’s going to be a long day.

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Source: FS – All – Science – News
Horses may understand human emotion, especially anger