BY TANJA SCHNUDERL
Can your horse tell you apart in a group of humans? The latest research in equine-human recognition.
After being at home sick for about a week I’m finally back at the barn, walking down the aisle up to my horse’s stall.
“Hi there! Remember me?” I say to my chestnut mare.
She flings up her head from the hay she was munching on. She gives me a low welcome neigh and takes the carrot I hold in front of her face.
“Of course, she remembers me! I’m her person!” I’m thinking, but then I start to wonder… Could she tell me apart in a group of humans? How do horses generally identify humans? Is it by looking at our faces? Hearing our voice? Or do they identify us by our smell like dogs?
The answer is all of the above! A study in 2010 concluded what equestrians already knew: yes, a horse does recognize “their” person and they can differentiate them from other humans. They do that based on olfactory as well as auditory and visual cues, which means by seeing and smelling us as well as by hearing our voice.
Not only can they tell their person apart from other humans but they also keep a long-lasting memory of a familiar human. A recent study in 2020 showed that horses recognized the face of their caregivers after they had not seen them for six months. Even more impressive was the fact that the horses did not identify their caregiver in real life but only from a picture shown to them.
Horses are sensitive prey animals and their close relationship to humans has enabled them to them being able to pick up on human emotions too. Another recent study has proven, that domestic horses are capable of identifying human emotions. Scientists found out that the horses participating in this study could not only distinguish between joyful and angry human sounds but were also able to tell the difference between a human face expressing anger and a human face expressing joy.
This leads scientists to believe that horses have much more advanced human face-emotion recognition abilities and long-term memory of familiar faces than originally assumed.
Tanja Schnuderl is the Director of International Services with The Equine Expert LLC, a multi-discipline equine expert witness and consulting firm with expert equestrians offering legal expert witness and consulting services in court cases and legal matters. Tanja is an expert on Barn Management and Horse Behavior. She provides her barn management services at a modern 20-stall boutique barn close to Washington DC and a private 8-stall training facility of a local FEI Dressage rider. She has established her own equine appraisal company, Sigma Equine LLC. Tanja grew up in Germany and was a paralegal for many years. For more information on Tanja Schnuderl email email@example.com, www.theequineexpert.com
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