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Human Nervousness Can Transfer to Equines

A Swedish University study shows that a nervous rider can cause a nervous horse.

25-Jun-10

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Frightened horseResearch at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences confirms what riders have always known: a nervous rider or handler can cause his or her horse to become nervous as well.

For the study, horses were ridden or led across a certain distance in a familiar indoor arena four times. The study used 17 horses under saddle and 10 led in-hand. The horses and humans had their heart rates monitored during the study. In this initial phase, heart rates of humans and horses dropped on the second or third pass.

For the final pass, the rider or handler was told that an assistant standing next to the track would open an umbrella as they passed by. However, when the participants actually walked the final pass, the assistant did not open an umbrella. The actual conditions of the final pass were the same as the preceding three, the only variable being the rider or handler's expectation of an event that could cause the horse to spook.

The humans' heart rates increased significantly as they anticipated the action. The horses were unaware of the expected action, but their heart rates increased as well, apparently in response to their rider or handlers' nervousness.

"The increase in heart rate probably means that the horses were more alert and prepared to react to any potential danger," said Dr. Linda Keeling, the professor of animal welfare who led the study.

For practical application, this research suggests that a rider anticipating their horse spooking at something, such as a plastic bag on the side of the trail, may actually increase the likelihood of the horse spooking. Additionally, a rider with pre-show nerves may inadvertantly be causing his or her horse to anticipate danger.

The results of the study were published in The Veterinary Journal in 2009.

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Reader Comments

Galadriel    Lothlorien, ME

6/25/2010 11:32:08 PM

I think anyone who has been around horses and other animals can vouch for this. They pick up on ours and each others emotions.

The photo is pretty. Looks like Shadowfax.

Meghan Sara    Richardson, TX

6/25/2010 3:56:39 PM

This is proof! Mark it down in history that every time my mom said this wasnt true, she was wrong! :)
I always knew my instructor was right!

Tammy    Stanton, KY

6/25/2010 8:48:34 AM

This is so true and some breeds are better able to read their owners than others.

katelyn    Whitehouse Station, NJ

6/25/2010 5:18:29 AM

My mom and i have been saying this for years!! yay!! now its a definite!

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