Equine Emotions

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Horse eyeYour mare always seems happy to see you when you arrive at the barn — nickering loudly and often galloping away from her playmates to meet you at the paddock gate when you call her name. Although it makes you feel good inside that she’s so eager to greet you, a question keeps popping into your head: Does she really have emotional attachment to me or does she just equate my presence with all those free, crisp carrots?

The question of whether animals have feelings has perplexed philosophers and animal behaviorists for centuries. Philosopher Rene Descartes once argued that because animals could not be proven to have feelings, they should be regarded as automatons that acted mechanically. A few centuries later, George John Romanes (a student of Charles Darwin) argued for “injective knowledge,” or that you could infer what was going on inside someone’s mind by observing their reactions to particular circumstances and by knowing how another feels in the same situation. For example, if one animal experiences fear in a dangerous situation and acts a certain way as a result, you could presume that another animal acting similarly in the same situation is also experiencing fear.

The debate continues today. Behavior science is no longer subjective, and when studying animals, scientists have to observe, quantify and explain specific aspects of their behavior without adding personal interpretation. You see, two different people can look at the same equine behavior but come up with two entirely different interpretations, just because of their own life experiences and world views. For example, I used to exercise horses for someone who believed that animals did not have emotional lives. We would hack our horses together, spending hours on the trail debating the motivations behind the things our horses did. I’d argue passionately about how horses have their own unique motivations for their actions, but he’d come back with how that same behavior could occur automatically, without emotional drive. Neither point of view could be proved right, but we each believed in the truth of our points of view.

That is both the beauty and the shortcoming of behavior science. Only motivations that can be proved are legitimate explanations for behavior within the scientific method. Placing emotional responses on animals may not be wrong, but it cannot be proved to be right, either. For this reason, ascribing human emotion to animal behavior is considered to be unscientific and is generally not done. Most of what animals do gets explained by two basic and proven animal drives: to stay alive at any given moment (which ultimately results in individual survival), and breed and nurture offspring (which ultimately results in survival of the species). Seeking food, water, shelter and mates can all be accounted for by the drives to survive and reproduce.

On the other hand, if a horse does something that seems like a unique — maybe even emotional — behavior, it’s still pretty difficult to prove his motives. Because we don’t whinny and nicker, and because they haven’t quite mastered English, Spanish or German, horses are not able to tell us their reasons for their actions in absolute terms. Instead, we have to watch what they do and interpret it as best we can. In my own horses, I’ve observed behavior at times that does not seem to fit an explanation by the two basic drives. For example, one of my mares would act distressed and stop eating whenever her pasturemate was removed for long time periods. Refusing to eat was not exactly good for her personal survival, nor did it do anything to improve her reproductive fitness. To me, the behavior seemed more complicated and personal than “drive” behavior, something more along the lines of how we feel when we’re depressed and lonely.

In a similar vein, some of the research being done with primates is also indicating capacity for emotion. Many of you are familiar with Koko, the gorilla who learned sign language with Dr. Francine Patterson and had a seemingly loving relationship with her orange tabby kitten, Ball. She has been known to express herself as “sad” in relation to apparently distressing events, or to express sentiments such as “love” with respect to people and other animals. Granted, these expressions might seem simplistic when you compare them to our human feelings, but keep in mind that the capacity of these nonhuman animals to learn such human “language” is equally basic, similar to that of very young children. While we have detailed means for expressing every little detail about how we feel, animals don’t. So it is possible that their emotional lives might be much more basic than ours, felt strongly and simply, in the moment and without great complexity.

As a result of such studies, the evidence is building that primates are capable of feelings similar to ours. If primates (not including us) show a capacity to express specific emotions using the language we teach them to communicate with, then might it also be possible that other nonhuman animals, such as horses, also experience similar feelings?

Let’s assume for a moment that horses do have the capacity for emotions. What are the advantages to this? The disadvantages?

One important advantage is that it helps in horse training by giving us a familiar framework for relating to horses. It is easier to understand their behavior if it can be related to our own. If the horse acts in a way that seems frightened, we can assume he is afraid of whatever is happening around him and can handle the situation accordingly.

Another advantage of assuming our horses have the capacity to feel is that we must then accord appropriate respect to them. We must keep in mind their emotional well-being, which is not necessary if we think of them as lacking feelings. Thinking of horses as having emotions requires us to have a certain amount of consideration which we might not otherwise feel like we need to provide. The end result is a higher and more humane standard of care for horses, benefiting horses and society in general.

On the minus side, where do we draw the line? If our horse kicks for no apparent reason, do we assume that horses know the difference between “right” and “wrong,” and hold him accountable for behaving without conscience? Because he has emotional capacity, does he also have a code of morality? I personally equate a companion animal’s emotional development to that of very young children, in whom emotions are mainly self-serving and in whom morality is absent. Even in humans, knowing right from wrong is not innate but must be taught.

Another disadvantage is that it gives owners an excuse for their horses’ bad behavior. It can be used as a crutch to explain away things that should be addressed. For example, a horse that bites a passerby could be excused as “unhappy” or “having a bad day.”

It is possible that we could simply be wrong about ascribing the capacity for some level of emotional life to animals. But considering what can be gained in our partnerships with animals by giving them credit for possessing at least rudimentary emotions, what will we lose if we aren’t right? Considering our physical similarities to nonhuman animals in terms of the “hard-wiring” needed for emotional capability — that is, possessing brains, nerves and pain receptors — I find it extremely unlikely that emotional capacity is uniquely present only in the human animal.

Just because science is struggling with this issue, you as an owner don’t need to be. You and I know beyond a doubt that our animals are individuals of personality and character — and eventually science will catch up and find ways to measure this emotional aspect of their behavior. It might be that horses only have the emotional capacity of very young children, but that is still a powerful emotional life worth of our consideration. When we as humans disregard our horse’s emotional well-being, it leads to a host of problems that can be avoided simply by just giving credit where it’s due.

Further Reading
Recognizing Learning Ability in Horses

139 COMMENTS

  1. I know how my horses feel and what emotions they have. Depressed though I wouuld say is when they arn’t themselves, they shy away from the things they normally don’t, for example, eating. when they are refusing something, like a fence, that seems like an act more out of anger. Thats one of the things that i feel is the most intresting about horses. Their emotions shine through ther behavior. The stronger the bond between you and your pal, the easier it is to understand them.

  2. You are correct. Our horses show moods according to our behavior. You can read them by their actions, eyes, etc. They positively have feelings and if one is close to their horse they can read the signs, distinctivly.

  3. I would have to say horses and other animals do have feelings because when you yell at a animal it shys from you. And usually turns away from you and go in a different direction. My horse shows a lot of her feelings. Like when she gets upset,mad,or just bored,Ect. So yes I think it is very possible if not how else would you explain their reactions to us sometimes? Just because they can’t talk doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings.

  4. Well I have a mare in with three geldings and its provin that mares bond with one other mare(sister daughter cusin) and since she is the only mare at the moment she seems to have a bond with me. Yes she nickers when she sees me come out to feed her but when she has food on the ground and I walk away she will fallow me, and leave the others behind or she will save food for me. And when I was little she would try to get me to nurse lol. She treated me like her foal though she had never had one before. Yes its an insinct but do we all not have instints? For example when someone throws their hand in your face you blink and back away, men look for big breast and hips in women why not cause they are horn dogs but its a child baring instint the bigger women are the heathier the child will be. I could go on and on, though everyone has the same instints they also have different personalitys. Cause every personality is ment to set a different job to help the family. Strangth, wisdom, leadership, love, there are so many different ones why should I even bother. You may kiss your husband/wife everyday before you go to work, in the begining there was a spark a connection but after a while it just becomes a habbit you dont even think about it you just do it, not to say you dont love them thats not what I mean its that things change from when you started to live. As a child you would struggle to walk and think about where you would place your feet but not anymore you just do it! To make my piont clear yes we have instints and they can become daily habbits but everyone and everything is different inside.

  5. my horses have a range of emotions i can tell when they are mad,happy,depressed,lonely,or just uncomfotable. If horses didnt have emotions they could not connect with us the way they do. If we can love them and respect them i belive they can do the same with us

  6. A great article! I’ve seen to many examples of feelings and thought in horses and other animals to believe they don’t have feelings or emotions. One scarey thing to think about, If ever one day we do find a way to understand horses or other animals thoughts or feelings. Does it change our moral responsability to them and how? If I go to my barn and my horse tells me “I don’t want to be ridden” Then what? Right now I can ride along fat dumb and happy totaly content that I give the best care for my horse and that he is happy. If he expresses he doesn’t want to be ridden and I do it anyway am I going to have a good time?
    This subject gets even worse when you start examining livestock and food animals. On one hand it would be great, on the other well now there’s food for thought.

  7. all animals have emotions. someone who thinks their just animals is because they never tried to listen to what the animal had to say. you cant look into a horses eyes and say their nothing.why do you think mares are sometimes edgy when someones messing with their foal? they care about them.someone who thinks that way ought not mess with animals for the animals sake. have you ever noticed that one horse is loving and the other wants nothing to do with you? there is a reason for that.horses and animals are just like people.

  8. If you dont think horses have emotions then you need to come meet Flame.If he doesnt get attention 1st he will turn his head away from you and act like hes mad at you when you do get to him.We have 3 horses and all of them act jealous of each other if they are not the one getting the attention;(brushing or petting)They will nudge and push on you and the other horses until they get thier share of attention.I dont believe either of these things have anything to do with survival or mating

  9. Yes. I definitely think animals (especially horses) have emotions. My cats can be mad at me or they can love me. I know they do not anticipate food from me, because my mom and my sister are the people that feed them.

  10. I think that horses (and all animals, like us) do have emotions and feelings. And like us, they react off of other animals feelings too. If we’re depressed, a horse usually wont try as hard for us. But when we’re happy, the horse usually does try (of course there are exceptions). Of course they have emotions, or else their attitudes wouldn’t change on a day to day basis

  11. I believe that horses and other animals have capacity to feel pain and emotion.Anyone who spends time around them knows.They each have their own personality and respond to situations differently.

  12. I have observed equine behavior for years. There is no doubt in my mind that horses are capable of having and showing emotions. I question why anyone would want to treat them differently whether they truly are capable of feeling emotions or not…same respect should always be given as well as a kind approach to disciplining unacceptable behavior. We have had horses that pout when you get after them verbally and horses that appear jealous when their barn mate gets attention and they don’t.

  13. I think that horses have feeling, and sometimes they coney them throgh sounds or body language, but mostly by their actions like nudging, kicking, etc.I’d like to be updated on this pressing issue 🙂

  14. Horses are sentient.They can feel pleasure and pain,like many other creatures.Each one has a different personality.Since they are sentient they deserve some level of respect.Before you ever take responsibility for the life of a sentient creature,you must assess whether or not you are really committed.

  15. Horses do have emotions.And even IF you were asuming that they didn’t have higher emotions,you would still have to accept that they are consciously aware of pain,and would relieve themselves of it if given the chance.When a horse injures one of its legs,doesn’t it favour that leg and keep weight off of it to avoid pain?And anyone who has a pet like a cat,dog,or a horse has seen enough to conclude that THEY DO HAVE HIGHER EMOTIONS,and can feel love,or jealousy,among others.

  16. Of course horses have feelings! They may not have all of the same ones humans do, and they may have different stimuli which trigger them, but they still have feelings!

  17. I know for a fact tat animals do have emotions. If I take my gelding away from my mare she will hunt in every spot to find him and when he shows up again theuy nicker to each other and run and play. I’ve also seen horses get very depressed especially when a herd member dies. there was a time where one of my old mares laid down in the pasture to die (at the time I didn’t know it) the only reason I notice it was because all of the others were standing around something with their heads to the ground. If that isn’t emotion I don’t know what is. then the people thatsay they don’t don’t have any emotion either.

  18. I do feel horse have emotions I have clearly seen grief, when one when one of my horses passed away and her buddy was left behind,even though we had other horses he never seemed to forget her he now stands alone in our pasture in their favorite spot.
    and for no reason will whinnie and it now has been two years.

  19. I’ve been with horse all of my 45 years and yes horses do have emotions, once you tap into that essence of your horse with knowing and understanding, you’ll never question it again.

  20. What does science know? Horses do have emotions, I’ve had them all my life and observed them. If a horseperson told me that horses don’t have emotions, Id tell them they should have them then. Because they will never truly understand or connect with their horse.

  21. People should start studying natural horsemanship, Pat Parelli, Clinton Anderson, Ed Dabney etc. Horses don’t understand our language. They understand their own, which is body language. If your horse kicks out at you, they do it for a reason. You just have to be able to read them. And by studying under Pat Parelli you can do that. They do have emotions and feelings, but people don’t take time to learn the horse’s language and that is often why people are put in dangerous situations

  22. There shouldn’t be any debate. Horses have emotions and feelings. I know they do. I’ve had them ever since I was three years old! My pony Taffy gets jealous and moody if I don’t spend time with her, and my horse Belle races to greet me EVEN IF I do not have food (which I generally don’t). On the other hand, Sundae the Paint is a distant horse. She doesn’t really want to be best friends with anyone but she quietly asks for attention by standing by and looking longingly at you. They don’t understand all of the human language, but they do have their own and we can learn it. If I blow in my horse’s nostril and it blows back, then we’re friends. It’s horse language. Whoever says horses have no feelings … HAH! Meet my mares.
    Thanks for the thought-provoking article.

  23. I don’t care what the scientists say,anyone who knows their horse well enough knows they have feelings.Did you ever hear the story about the people who bought a pony only to have it nearly die because it missed his friend at his last home?He had feelings most definately.When the brought him back he was fine.
    Horselover

  24. beyond a doubt in my mind horses and all animals have emotions. why would they choose to be around us in the first place if they didnt enjoy our company. My horse sierra expresses quite a few emotions, she’ll ignore me if i dont come and greet her before any of the other horses,or she will give those famous horse hugs after you dismount. to explain that behavior one can only say that that is an expression of affection and emotion.

  25. Great article. Personally I believe that animals have emotions. I have looked into this very deeply and every time I research the subject I find more and more evidence of emotions in animals. For example, a lot of stuff a mother does for her offspring goes beyond just maternal instinct and showcases true love and compassion.

  26. Hi i know for a fact that horses have emotions. My horse actually pouts whenever you say something mean to him or even about him! He has sulked for days just because i yelled at him!

  27. Actually the lastest research with horses shows they have activity in the SAME areas of their brains as we do when subjected to stressful, emotion producing situations.In fact it was proven over a century ago by an incredible horse named Jim Key.Read the documented accounts of this horse in the book “Beautiful Jim Key”. We all knew it was so !

  28. I would like a scientist to define for me what “emotion” is according to science, not his or her own opinion. It is truly hard to find out if a horse has emotion or not, but reffering to the example of a horse biting a passerby, wheather a human is having a good or bad day- would we accept the equivelant of the horse’s behavior? Say, it was a child who scratched and hit random people. Wheather the child was feeling happy, mad or sad- emotions of any sort- it would not be acceptable.
    My gelding kicks randomly when his hind quarters are being handled- not because he is afraid of the human brushing him or walking around him or his buttocks hurt, but simply because he thinks when you are back there you are telling him what to do and he wants to be the boss. Is his want for dominance a hard wired instinct that was born into him or is it emotion? You could say it is simply how that horse acts, but other times he really likes it when you scratch his rear and allows you to walk around him.
    My mare, as well, I would like to believe has some emotion. Though she falls in love with practically any male horse that she meets, she will always return and call back to the old, nearly lame gelding who is kept in the pasture beside hers. Though she may be running a little on her natural instinct to reproduce and keep her species alive, by any means no other mare has preffered the gelding she likes at all. This gelding that my mare fancies is and always has been the bottom of the pecking order and obviously hasn’t been awarded dominance rights by any mares he’s been with, and yet, you could probably say my mare loves him.

  29. I have an arabian gelding that i have had about 6 months it took a little over 2 months for him to trust me and not be so nervous about 3 weeks ago i resued another horse she was very under weight and needed alot of attention and care she is 5 years old and has never been rode she is a sweet loving horse but she has not been handle much before i got her and i have just now got her to where she leads and let you halter her my question is my arabian when i am in the stall with him he will face the larger enterance door way and if she comes by and looks in he lays his ears back and darts at her and then he will back all the way back up to me and want me to start brushing him again and if she walks by back goes the ears and he takes 2 or 3 steps toward her to let her know she is not comeing in and not welcome and he backs back up to me and to the side for me to brush him is he jealous of her coming around me because if i step out of the stall he still does it at times in the feild but at other times they are eating side by side in the same stall with no problem as long as i don’t go in

  30. I think it’s rediculious we’re still having people debate this. Of course animals have feelings! Anyone who has ever seen how horses act when their pasture mate dies, will never doubt that. Also, being the person lucky enough to be around a foal and be there for that foal during weaning, it’s very emotional. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that our animals have some better senses of feeling than we humans.

  31. yes I think horses have feelings,anyone out there should know that! I a friend who interuduce me to her horses and help learn to ride and take care of horses, since then I saw that evry horse that i greeted at the barn each horse had it’s own opinion of how to greet me, I LOVE HORSES!

  32. Why do they need a study, I can guarantee they have emotions. I am 62 years old had horses on our farm since I was born, I can’t believe this is even a question. I know exactly how my horse feels, he sure lets me know. We have six on the farm right now, and believe me they all let you know what they think and feel.

  33. Very thought provoking article, makes me happy to know that its okay to think that my mare really does have feelings….personality, and therefore I give her the best care I can, considering she’s not living out in the wild with the Mustangs!

  34. This is a very true article. Horses DO have feelings and I never doutbed it for a split second. Horses are very emotional animals and they’re not afraid to let you know how they feel. If they feel frightened, sad, angry, excited and happy, etc., they will definitely let you know. It’s up to us to be able to read them properly to know what they are feeling and why. All we have to do is just listen to them. They are definitely expressing themselves to us. Sometimes people just don’t seem to realize it. So we have to do our best to listen to them and their emotions and understand them.

  35. Why is this even a question?
    i dont know why scientests even bother?
    i have absolutely no doubt that animals have feelings and i would say it over and over and over again one million times for the rights of animals!

  36. I stumbled across this article as a result of a paper I am writing which, basically, discusses the value of horses as pets. As we are emotionally invested in our pets, it would seem beneficial in some way to know whether they (in this case specifically the horse) are emotionally invested in us. Marc Bekoff, Professor of Biology at the University of Colorado, suggests that if humans evolved into emotional beings, we had to have inherited this ability to feel (to love) from other “lower” life forms (Minding Animals, 2002, pg. 20). I love my horses. I’d like to think that they love me back.

  37. Of course horses have feelings! Why do you think they squeal or freak out when they get hurt? All animals have feelings. If you think about it, we are animals (Homo sapiens) and we belong in the animal kingdom and don’t we have feelings? Non-living things obviously do not have feelings, neither do plants or trees. Animals can’t talk, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings. They nicker when they see us, hopefully they do, so doesn’t that mean they love us? There are 2 quotes that I will never forget that Anna Sewell said in Black Beauty: (1)’When his harness is once on, a horse may neither jump for joy nor lie down for weariness.’ (2) ‘…we call them dumb animals, and so they are, for they cannot tell us how they feel, but they do not suffer less because they have no words.’ Another quote I like is: ‘A horse loves freedom, and the weariest old work horse will roll on the ground or break into a lumbering gallop when he is turned loose into the open.’ ~Gerald Raferty; now do you think horses have feelings? If not, watch and/or read Black Beauty and then look into your horses eyes and see if you can find any emotions or feelings in them. I know I can.

  38. I think that horses do have emotions because my horse does get moody sometimes, and he becomes jealous if I go and pet another horse.

  39. Horses have emotions. When I give attention to another horse my horse gets so jealous. When I don’t go to see him every day, and I miss a day, he gets mad at me, and turns his butt towards me, but doesn’t kick. When I try to kiss him or hug him,he turns his head away. He definately has emotions!

  40. Im pretty sure most animals have emotions..when i brought my bunny home for the first time my dog chewed up my horse models,and she was way over the age to be chewing things! i have been noticing emotions in my animals for years, even my bunny has emotions,she even gets moody! when i go to the horse i lease’s stall she makes a low grunting noise when i call her name, and she comes right up to the stall door.she gets frusterated when she is on the wrong lead and she changes with her head shaking from side to side.

  41. There’s no doubt in my mind that horses are capable of feeling emotion – especially grief. When I lost a 2-year-old filly several years ago, my gelding made what sounded like a very human sigh as I cried against his neck. And when he died last week at the age of 27, his pasture mate, a 30-year-old mare, died two days later. Can I prove that grief facilitated her death? No. But I’m unable to rule it out.

  42. I found the article very interesting. I do feel that horses as well as other nonhuman animals do have emotions. Just as they have their own personality.

  43. Interesting article. I for one believe that horses do in fact have emotions, as do all other animals and species that live ont he earth today. The idea that these creatures dont have emotions is just odd.

  44. I do believe that horses have emotions. They get scared, mad, and they do show signs of love both for us humans and their fellow herd mates.

  45. how do animals NOT have emotions?!? i’m starting to wonder if these scientists who study and debate about this topic have ever actually been in close-contact with an animal before!!!

  46. I think animals have emotions too. Like they were saying in the first paragraph how your mare would come up to you and nicker, but they were not sure if that was because of the treats they are giving her. Well my 4 year old mare Ruby and I have a very strong Bond its olny when she sees me she gives a high whinny and meets me at the gate:) I really dont think she is associating me with treats because I dont give them to her that often and when I do I dont give her much. When I am With other horse Ruby just watches me, she doesnt seem jealous just, Well I think she really enjoys being with me. so to say animals dont have emotions well… idk?

  47. Actually, the latest theory among evolutionary biologist is that “of course animals, in particular mammals, have emotions”. It’s theorized that since mammals take a relatively long time to raise their young, emotions evolved as a necessity to develop the strong bond between parent(s) and their young. In the event of danger, strong emotional ties drive the intense protective instincts that mothers and / or social groups exhibit when protecting their young. Also, the amount of energy required for mammals to successfully raise young is a huge investment and taxing on the individual or entire group. The emotional ties help to cement the commitment required by the parent(s) to be successful at rearing their young. Many mammals live in social groups and often require (intense) emotions to form the hierarchy necessary to become a successful social group. So it’s not anthropomorphizing when we recognize the emotions we have experienced in similar situations. In fact, we are actually acknowledging or recognizing in these other animal species the basic emotions from which we derived our own . . . and NOT the other way around!

  48. Take a baby from her mom and see what she does! If she doesn’t pannic then she has no feelings. If she does then she feels like any mom, panicking and emoting over the absence of her baby.

  49. horses have feeling!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!And thats final!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  50. When I walked a new horse into the barn, my mare Ginger refused her grain, she turned her back to me and watched over her shoulder, while I coaxed her to eat her grain. She shows other signs of jealousy when I give attention to other animals. Now, our pony is due to foal in a month and Ginger is babysitting her, she won’t let any other horses near her.

  51. Horses cannot have lived in close proximity with humans for as long as they have without experiencing emotions. We have kept the animals closest to us that can empathize with us and that we can empathize with—cats, dogs, horses,etc. Humans are wrong to think that we have an exclusive right to have feelings.

  52. I know horses have feeling. We lost are old mare at age 34 this fall and are gelding was standing over her and his eye was running. His head was low. After we burried her in the pasture he stood over her grave for months. He refused to eat for the first week. I had to bring him his food and water for weeks. He just stood their with his head low. He would sigh every now and then. To my he was depressed. His health went down hill so we asked a friend to take him in to see if it would help him get over losing her. They took him in and had a few horses their. He is eating now and drinking and he make a few new friends. You can’t tell me his heart wasn’t broke. Not all the scientist in the world.

  53. I personally believe that animals DO have emotions. I don’t think they’re as complex as human’s emotions, though. Like the story that Jennifer told about her horse grieving– I can’t see how a ‘scientist’ could ever explain that. We’ll probably never really know.

  54. Sheesh – I have a horse that is REALLY emotional. He’s proud and jigs whenever someone admires him or he goes over a little bridge, he throws temper tantrums when I don’t let him run when he wants, he pokes around and then trots up when he’s bored on the trail, and nibbles the top of my head with affection. My mare was really emotional too, begging for me to come get her out of the pasture, jealous of the other to “guys”. Even my least emotional horse, my retired endurance horse, will let me know in no uncertain terms that he disagrees with my choice of trail. Of course, they are all Arabians, so I guess centuries of living in close quarters with humans made them more emotional…

  55. I think horses do have emotions. My mare had her first foal in late 07 in early 08, even after the foal had been weaned for a few months, we had to euthanize him. And the for a few weeks she had stopped eating and she quit acting like her self. After many vet calls by multiple vet I went out and bought a foal. She didn’t care for him at first but now when they are turned out together she takes care of him. There are other mares that are turned out with them and no one is allowed near him.
    Another reason I think horses have emotions. My Dutch sometimes does things that irritates me (like when we are walking he will push me lightly with his shoulder, not hard just bothering). I will pop him on the shoulder to keep him out of my space and he will lower his head and his lower lip wil start to quiver. Its cute.

  56. Of course horses have feelings!
    My trainer once said that horses have a very strong since of justice. I believe that to be totally true. My thoroughbred gelding came to the farm last July. His manners and attitude were absolutely horrible, the worst I’d ever encountered. Everyone who bothered to be around him hated the way he acted. Hated him, even. I was the only person who decided to stick with it and ride him. I would punish him when it was nessesary, but I was the only one who showed him I wasnt going to hate everything he did. I gave him a chance by loving him from the start.
    Nowadays, his attitude has dramatically changed. Just yesterday, he and another horse he had never met before started randomly grooming each other at a show! He’s a real sweetheart and I really think…I really hope I made a difference in his life.

  57. Horses DEFINATELY have feelings.
    I rode a horse who was literally jealous of other horses when I rode someone besides him. He would try to bite and kick at my horse every time I rode by.

  58. Of course horse’s have feelings! How else do you explain when a horse is rearing up at you, or bucking? It’s made or scared, or even happy! I know a horse named Trigger who probably hates my guts and is completely jealous of my horse Chip!

  59. your mare not eating when the pasture mate was removed for a long period of time does actually go back to the survival instinct, survival in numbers and the pack animal mentality – that would be my spin on it anyway

  60. I believe absolutely horses have emotions. I believe they deserve respect just as I believe my mare owes me respect in return. Maybe science can “see” or measure this but my heart can.

  61. I 100% think that ALL animals have feelings – especially horses. You look into their eyes and you can see emotions dancing in them.

  62. I also believe horses are emotional creatures. I bought a beautiful mare that from what I’ve been told didn’t have the best life the past couple of years. Before I bought her I would observe her in the field and she seemed very lonely, no life in her. She wouldn’t even come over when you called her. Now that I have her I see a big difference. She’s in a pasture with my gelding now and they have gotten pretty close. When I come to see her and she’s way down at the other end of the field with my gelding all I have to do is yell her name. She pops her head up, looks at me and comes running. She could care less about Lincoln my gelding. Oh, and 1 more thing I have never given her a treat when she comes to me. She does get a treat or two once in a while in her bucket. So to me that says she LOVES being with me.

  63. of course horses have feelings. My Friesian Filly Zahni was depressed for a long time after her stall mate Treasure died very unexpectedly from a nose bleed. Zahni would stand in the corner, staring at the willows (where we bury all of the deceased horses) for hours. She would continually call for Treasure. If they didn’t have emotions, she wouldn’t have cared that Treasure had died.

  64. Totally agree, horses/animals, have emotions. I know my horses have emotions, even on a basic level. My mare does greet me, and nicker, and not because there are treats in my pocket, she’s just happy to see me. And oh so jealous when I give our new horse attention, she gets it first. That’s emotions for me….

  65. ooooooooooooooooooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh cool you have a lot of good articles peaople can look at and they are really packed with a lot of information
    -hannah

  66. That’s a no-brainer! Spend a little QUALITY time around a horse and it’s pretty obvious! They may have more sensitive emotions than we do actually.

  67. Horses half feelings and emotions just like we do, but we just have to take a LITTLE time out of our busy lives every day to see it. Watch your horse graze in it’s pasture, or roll in the snow, or gallop around happily and you’ll see.

  68. I sure agree with the other comments, if you are willing to watch and really see, then you know that horses do have emotions and feelings.

  69. Definitely agree that horses have feelings. My mare gets jealous if I play with another horse. She will whinny and pace because she wants the attention and to be out of the field playing. She will also become very “frisky” when I hop on. She starts crow hopping and bucking and thinks she is back at the racetrack.

  70. I believe that horses have emotions. How can someone be around them and not think that. They are beautiful and sensitive creatures.

  71. I can say without a doubt that horses have feelings, and some of their behavior is greatly influenced by the said emotion. When my wee stud colt died in the pasture, his pasture-buddies most definitely expressed appropriate grieving behavior.They both knew that he died. By observing their behavior it was quite apparent they knew. It was extremely eerie actually. AS well,they also grieve his lost for a good many days. The mare grieved the longest. She definitely had a harder time with it, a grieved more expressively.

  72. I think horses do have emoitions and feelings, when my old mare was aked to jump she would jump if it was low but always pinned her ears back and had a scared look in her eyes. She always acted scared because when she was younger she had slipped and fallen while jumping.

  73. this makes me soo mad when people are to stupid to realize that of course anomails have feeling and personalities just like humans!!! after all humans are animals too! i knoww animals feel things like love, hate sympathy and even empathy which is alot more than alot of people i know can feel!! horses also have there own unique personalities just like people do and you can learn to read which type of personality a horse has by looking at his facial features. (Linda Tellington-Jones)and people are capable of comunicating with horses but not by nickering or any sort of verbual language. you must use you body language. (Monty Roberts) and if we were smart enough and had the patince we could proabaly learn to comunicate with any animal on the plant!!!!! the answer is ovious i’v experienced it!! that gorilla is amazing and look on youtube for christain the lion and my cat LOOOVES my dog and pretty much HATES me!! that is emotin!!

  74. horses most definitely have feelings. my horse gets jealous and angry when I ride a different horse. she comes up to the gate when i get there, and i don’t bring her any treats. she nickers and whinnies to me but none of the other horses. she has her bad days when she just seems to be in a bad mood, and then the next day she will be happy.

  75. anyone who works and lives with animals KNOW that they are capable of emotions and collective thoughts. I have so many instances of complex thought processes, I could not list them all.

  76. OH for crying out loud! I am so irritated with this debate! In my oppinion, there is no question, horses and many other animals have emotions! How can you recognize they experience fear for example and then say they don’t experience love!? Of course it is survival but that is the purpose of emotions! It is yet again, an example of humans thinking we are the pinacle of all beings and that we are the only ones capable of emotions. Emotions are instincts in action and therefore drive all living things to survive, nurture, protect, develope relationships etc. What makes us unique to animals is that we have the ability to ask “why” we feel what we feel. I could go on and on, but I’ll spare you my frustration on this matter. Thanks so much for giving me a place to express my oppion! I hope I’m not alone! Hmmmm, did you hear all that emotion!? 🙂

  77. The only people, scientists included, who believe that animals may not have emotions are those who have not spent more than a few minutes with one. Of course, they don’t have human emotions, they’re not humans, but they certainly have their own equivalents.
    As for, “Behavior science is no longer subjective”, that must be a joke. Scientists are human beings! They have their own emotions, agendas, and personal knowledge, just to mention a few.
    It used to be believed that animals can’t use deception. It has now been proven that they can. Without emotions animals should be perfectly happy spending their lives eating, sleeping, mating, and doing absolutely nothing else. We know that is not the case. (Though I can’t say the same for some humans!)

  78. I see the following incident as an example of horses showing feelings. I fell off my horse and he stopped and came back and stood over me till someone came and led him away. I went to the hospital. I came home and went to the pasture. He came running up to me whinnying which was not something he was in a habit of doing. He did this for three or four more days when I arrived and then he went back to his normal self and quit whinnying when I arrived.

  79. I’d have to agree with the other comments. My own horse will ignore food and water when left in a stall by himself…he stands and the door and neighs and gets himself all worked up until I am back in sight. Being able to see another horse helps calm him down, but he still calls out occasionally until I come back. Ignoring the basic essentials does nothing but harm his chances of survival, and with people being “predators”, how is my companionship going to make his situation any better?

  80. Oh come on for the people that owns horses we know they have emotions scientist cannot predict that in an exam geesh i have a horse that i’ve owned for 7 years of his life he’s ten he is a very jealous animal i ride my new horse he whinnys i get off the horse to try and show him attention he turns his but around to me pins his ears and looks around at me like im mad at ya for that…. not just that among other things.So no scientist can ever determine they have no feelings cause they do this is from my stand point!

  81. It is my firm belief that animals have feelings. My father passed away and his dog grieved him until the dog nearly died. My horse knows my work schedule and goes off her feed if I have to miss coming on a day off.
    Two days ago I was walking her after a lunge session. I slipped and fell down on some wet leaves or something. I landed hard and was winded. At first she was fine, just a bit curious. I laid there on the ground for a couple of minutes to get my breath back and make sure I didn’t break a bone, (it was a HARD fall). My horse got really upset, started crying, nudging me and attempted to stand over me. I had to get up before I was ready because my horse was so worried. Once I was up she was fine, although she kept nudging the hip I landed on. the whole way back to the barn, seeming to want to check to make sure I was ok.
    These are NOT animals without feelings!!!!!

  82. We lost a 34 year old mare last spring. She was the one that would approach scary objects and then the others would follow. When she died the two geldings definitely grieved for several weeks. They stayed close to us when we were around and wanted to be petted more than usual.

  83. Horses most definatly have emotions. I have worked with horses all my life and have seen a full range of emotions from jealously to anger to love and devotion. I have seen them reason things out and solve problems. I have seen them learn all kinds of things. Anyone who says they only react doesn’t know what they are talking about. Just like humans there are some that are smarter than others but it is there.

  84. They definately have emotions. They get angrya dn frustrated when they are confused. They get sad when another horse dies. They have horsey friends in the pasture that they get excited to see or distressed to see leave. They know right from wrong. My horse cribs and he wont do it if im around or if i point at him hell stop. But as soong as I leave he will crib, being sneaky about it. A horse that kicks at the barn im sure knows its wrong. Wether or not they care that it is wrong is a different story, they could just be defiante.

  85. Of course horses don’t have human emotions, they have HORSE emotions. In the end, the feelings wind up being so close as to make no difference (anger, melancholy, mischief, etc.) it’s the reasoning that causes the emotions that can be completely different from human emotions.

  86. Horses aren’t that complicated. They are 1200 lb. bunnies who act on “feeling” or instinct. If they feel uncomfortable or unsafe, they react. It’s that simple. When a horse bites for “no apparent reason”, that’s not true. The horse felt unsafe or uncomfortable at that moment. Horses don’t have the capacity to reason or think. They aren’t hatching secret plans to harm us. They only “feel” safe and comfortable with us. Carrots are comfortable. Nice treatment is comfortable. Hyperflexion is uncomfortable. Ill-fitting tack is uncomfortable. Being in their paddock is safe. Being on the trail is unsafe. Having their barn mates around is safe and comfortable. Being the lone horse on a property is unsafe and uncomfortable. If horses have memory at all, it’s emotional memory, not physical memory. Emotional memory is a recurring feeling, not spurred by thought or reason. I’ve seen people come back from a 2 week vacation get on their horse and be bucked off moments later. Then they state “my horse was mad at me for going away for so long”. Huh? Your horse didn’t even know you were gone. Your horse lives in the moment. He wasn’t even aware of time. The reason he bucked you off is that he felt uncomfortable. I mean, isn’t it ultimately more comfortable for a horse to be lolling about in his pasture or stall rather than be ridden?? All he knew is at that moment he was all of a sudden put in an uncomfortable position and he didn’t like the feeling. The moment we begin to quantify every single behavior that a horse exhibits to us, good or bad, by whether it was comfort or safety (uncomfortable or unsafe) triggered, we will start to discover how simple it is to get consistent behavior from our horses. And we’ll stop blaming them.

  87. when one of our horses died in three in different times all the horsesstood in a row even when o one of our dogs died they all stood in a row and when our cat died they did the same to me this ment they understood death and showed there respect.

  88. I believe horses do have emotions. My horse got mad at me since the mare that was in the coral left. He knew
    I did not like her cause she kept biting him on his butt. When she left for a while he would not come up to me. Seemed to blame me for her leaving.

  89. All you have to do is observe a herd of horses and be a sensitive perceptive person to know they DO have emotions. The person that says they don’t should be observed to see if they have any emotions and /or are sensitive and perceptive enough to notice the subtleties that horses “Speak” in. It’s more about “Horse Listening” than Horse Whispering.
    http://www.malibuhorsesinc.com

  90. I believe all animals have feelings and emotions and a soul. Just because they can’t express those things in words doesn’t mean they aren’t there. It’s especially obvious (at least to me) when you watch an animal mourn. Elephants are even known to visit the “grave” of a dead relative. And apes hold “vigils” for recently deceased. I know my horse has days when he is the happiest in the world and loves to work, then the next day he may be irretable and doesn’t want to do a thing.
    But thats just how I see the subject. Since we cannot prove it beyond a resonable doubt, everyone’s entitled to their own opinions.

  91. They most certainly do!!! You just have to spend time with any animal and watch them or interact with them and you’ll know right quick they’ve got stuff to say!

  92. Who are we to say they dont have feelings? I mean i nkow some pretty heartless people. i Think everything has feelings. If its got a soal its got feeling.

  93. I know my mare cares for me. After a recent injury I had fixing fence she was at my side ASAP and I remember her running to the gate and raising hell so my hubby would know to get over there

  94. They definatly do. I experiance jelousy by my boys very offten. My pony once chased away a 17HH horse because he was trying to demand attention from me. I think horses feel love as well as we do, the shocked and hurt look on my pony’s face when I road a different horse for the 1st time was very clear, then suddenly that turned to jelousy and anger and he tried to bite the horse I was rideing through the fence. Whenever I’m in the pasture my horse Savvy comes upto me and will stand for an hour or more just being pet and falling asleep. They both follow me to the gate when I try to leave them and more than once my pony has tried to shove through he gate and follow me out. Horses feel Love, hate, anger and sadness like we do, they all show it, maybe in different ways, and clearly let us see it, some people don’t pick it up as well as others.

  95. it’s been a no brainer of course they have feelings every animal has feelings dogs when they wag there tail is like humans when they smile or how you can just see it in there eye how they are feeling

  96. Horses most definitely have feelings! They don’t expereince all the feelings we do, but the feelings are there! When a horse’s friend leaves the pasture, or they don’t have a companion at all, they get lonely, but then perk up and are happy again once a friend comes. There are also those horses that are always grumpy – pinning their ears, kicking, biting, etc. While others are more the happy-go-lucky type that are simply just happy to be alive. I’ve also seen horses show fear, nervousness, excitment, and others.
    One of my horses will nicker every time she sees me. Then she stays right by my side and goes everywhere I go. If I’m looking at something, she wants to look at it too, and then when I have to leave, she stands at the fence nickering and watches me go.

  97. of course they have feelings!!!! Haven’t you ever noticed if a horse is mad they put there ears back or if they are happy they are sticking straight up?????

  98. Of course horses have feelings!I mean take a look at their ears…. when their mad their turned back,and when they are happy their forward. My brother sadi they don’t …..BUT why does my horse rub his head against me …. or follow me home after we ride(even though i have already fed him).One time i fell of and when he realized i was gone he came back for me.HORSE DO HAVE FEELINGS!!!!!

  99. Horses do have emotions maybe not in the sam eway we do but they do feel. I knew a horse thet you could look into his eyes and you could tell he wanted to die he just was tired of living. Also I have seen horses afraid, happy, sad, and all aroung giddy,

  100. ok… If you’ve ever owned any animal at all, you’d know they have feelings. I dont believe we evolved, but that’s my opinion. My dog when she gets in trouble, she hunkers down and acts like her world is falling apart. that would be a ‘feeling’. my horse, when the wind blows a grocery bag around and makes a noise, she gets spooked or nervous. those would be feelings too. I don’t understand what is so hard for those ‘scientists’ to get.

  101. Duh…… of course they do. Heck, they have even done studies on plants and recorded responses to stressful changes in their environment. Anyone who doesn’t think animals have feelings should be the subject of scientific research.

  102. Of course horses have feelings! and so do dogs. I own both. Why is it so hard for scientists to believe what they cannot see?

  103. We adopted a rescue horse when she was a little over a year. Bella was terrified of people. Three months after being rescued she finally walked up to a human, our 10-year-old granddaughter. Bella and our granddaughter have a special bond. When it was time for Jess to return to Texas, she sat in the pasture and wept. The herd ignored her, but not Bella. She walked right to Jess and kept gently nuzzling her. When the stable owner was injured by another horse, Bella stayed with her, also nuzzling her until she was able to get up. Emotions? Responding to grief and pain tell me this horse has feelings.

  104. Like all animals, if a horse’s owner or friend -whether human or animal- dies (for example), they very clearly exhibit an emotional response. I find the notion of animals NOT having emotions impossible. If humans have emotions, why not animals? Why are humans singled out as being the only species with emotions? It doesn’t make sense. Just because animals can’t say it plainly in English doesn’t mean they can’t feel.

  105. Okay.. who the heck believes horses DO NOT have emotional lives? There is NO reason to have horse behaviorists come and check it out! ALthough i do consider myself a horse genius, there is no proof of non emotionality (a new word!). Excuse my grammar. Horses spook at things, which is an instinct, but i knew a horse that would spook at the tiniest things but if you reassured her she’d feel better. I also knew a wild mustang stallion who was crazy, but if you talked in a sweet voice he would calm down. I think this beleif is just as silly as an article in Equus that horses slow up when going downhill! They had RESEARCHERS trying to figure out the answer. C’mon. Are horses really stupid? I think not.

  106. I have to disagree with the article there is no way any of my horses don’t have the capacity to experience emotion, for example one of my friends was rounding up horses bareback (not one of her best ideas) and her horse cut to the right and sent her into a wooden post the other horses ran on by but my sweet little boy walked up and nuzzled her face and seemed genuinely concerned about her health. Now there’s no way you can tell me my horse did that out of instinct and not out of the goodness of his heart, I could tell you a million stories but any true horse lover would agree that horses have emotions.

  107. Is it really necessary for “horse experts” to examine the nature of horses.Obviously horses,and most animals in general feel emotions.Elephants will mourn for days over a lost herd-mate.A wild stallion has no idea how to take care of his harem if the lead mare is gone.And,if he does,the other horses will not express the utmost trust in him as they would if the lead mare was there.Do these “horse experts” even own horses,or know how to ride them?Yes,people can have their own views,but if the “experts” really did own horses,then they shouldn’t care whether the horse does or doesn’t feel emotions.Although they might not show it,a lot of horses live to hear that certain pair of foot-steps walking towards their stall,and that’s all that matters.And always remember this poem I wrote when judging any horse and/or rider,”It doesn’t matter his color,or bloodline,the only thing that really matters,is he’s beautiful to me,and he’s mine.”

  108. Horses most definitely have emotions. Horses have ‘bad’ and ‘good’ days just as we do. My horses know when there are treats: Before a ride, after a ride and on occasion, as a snack. They never receive treats during muck-out time. Today when I was mucking out our run-in, I took a break and stood by my horse for a moment, and she reached her head out and shoved it into my arms. Every time one of my ‘babes’ does something like that, it makes me tear up. It’s sweet to know that they care, and I 100% know that they do understand. They have an emotional attachment to us, and if you ask any Olympic or Grand Prix horseback rider, I think they would agree with me on that. They didn’t get to that level treating their horse as a machine. They got there working with their horse, and having the respect for him that he deserves. My pony will still sometimes wrap his neck around my back when I hug him. They do love us. When I’m sick and can’t visit them as much, they change. They miss me when I’m gone. When I come down there when I’m better (not at feeding time) they trot up to me and embrace me once more. Horses DO have feelings. And anybody who takes the time to care would know that.

  109. I think its possible for animals to feel emotions like worry, anticipation, fear, etc. Getting along with our horse friends means respecting those feelings and helping the animals to cope with their challenges

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