Do You Know Any Horses Afraid of Women?


Over the years, I’ve met a number of horses and ponies who people have told me are afraid of men, people in hats, or other such physical characteristics. But, have you ever met a horse afraid of women in general? 

I have not. I never really thought about it. I called a few horsepeople this morning to ask them. They also could not recall any. Some horses who might be afraid of specific women we mentioned, but none could remember a horse afraid of women in general. 

Which is part of why I was very interested when this Open Access (yay!) article came through my Nature feed: Horses cross-modally recognize women and men. 

The study follows previously published work on horses being able to recognize specific humans in a holistic manner and not just for one attribute. For example, if you get a haircut and go out to the barn, your horse still recognizes that it is you. Previous studies have also demonstrated that horses can recognize people in real life from repeated viewing on a photo of a screen. Horses have increased heart rates hearing children’s voices above their heart rates when they hear adult voices.

The study, as equestrian studies go, had a fairly large sample size with forty regularly handled Welsh mares participating with a mean age of 8.94 years with a standard deviation of 2.45 years. By using videos and sound recording of various voices and multiple screens and images, the horses’ gaze was measured to evaluate who they believed was talking. Analysis to voices was blinded, ensuring data accuracy and correct interpretation. 

The conclusions of the study, “reveal that horses can effectively cross-modally categorize women and men. Specifically, that suggests that horses may generalize their experiences with one person to other people in the same category (i.e. women or men). Horses remember previous interactions with humans and act consequently in future interactions.”

So much of a horse’s training and performance is based on the humans they have spent their time with, both recently and in their lifetime. Are you training your horse based on experiences you’ve had with other horses? Is your horse training you based on experiences they’ve had with other humans? 

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