Monday, March 27, 2017

Can horses recognize facial expressions on humans?

I've always thought the answer was no - I've always thought they cued off of other things to establish a handler's mood, like voice and body language.

Turns out? I'm wrong. A study done in 2015, which I somehow missed, demonstrated that horses can distinguish between a smile and a frown on a life-size color photograph (i.e., with no other cues as to the handler's mood). They got much more stressed when the photograph was frowning. (Of course, they used lesson horses, who are probably better than average at recognizing the mood of a stranger).

Take home: Smiling at a horse is helpful. Because they can tell you're smiling and they know what it means.


Friday, March 24, 2017

Do horses get runny noses when it's cold?

You know - when it's a cold day and your sinuses back up a bit and your nose runs a bit.

Horses absolutely do seem to suffer from the same effect. That is to say, I've definitely seen a bit of clear discharge in a horse's nostrils at the same time I'm reaching for a tissue myself. Given a runny nose in cold weather is partly caused by basic thermodynamics, it makes sense that horses get it too. (That said, if the discharge is thick, accompanied by a cough or, worse, only in one nostril, then it might well be a sick horse). Another clear sign that it's just the weather: When it's every horse in the herd.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Do show horses ever get stage fright?

The general answer is: No. Most horses don't seem to actually be stressed by an audience per se, although some horses may become afraid of specific things. For example, I have known more than one horse who was terrified of applause. Some horses are also bothered by flash photography, umbrellas, dogs, and small children. Riders, of course, get stage fright - and the negative performance effect sometimes seen when in the show ring is more likely because the rider is tense and not performing well.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Do horses sit like a dog?

Not often. Trick horses are often trained to "sit" - and a few horses will do so to scratch an itch on their butt. It's not a comfortable position for them.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Do horses get stressed?

Absolutely. Horses like routine, and can get stressed when their routine changes (One of the qualities of a good show horse is a high tolerance for stress and being able to deal well with being moved around, being in different stalls, etc).

Stress can also be caused by training - many young or green horses go through a "rebellious" stage at some point during their education, which may be caused by being overwhelmed by training. Most commonly, though, I've seen it when the horse first starts to learn correct carriage - but are unable to physically perform it because the only way to develop the muscle to carry a rider correctly is to do it, and thus the horse becomes frustrated and stressed. Stall rest can cause major stress for a horse. So can separation from a long-term companion. Some horses also become stressed when transported, and there are strong indications that this may be caused by poor hauling conditions (If your horse won't load, you may just be a bad driver).

Some horses get stressed if they are handled and ridden by different people, or forced to deal with people or horses they don't like. The final cause of stress is rider/handler stress - the horse can pick up on this and get stressed themselves.

Symptoms of stress in horses can include weight loss, stall or fence walking and other stable vices, excessive yawning, tooth grinding, bad behavior under saddle, diarrheoa, excessive urination, trembling/shaking, excessive licking or chewing, elevated pulse and respiration, "breaking out into a cold sweat," bolting their food, biting and even ulcers.


Monday, March 20, 2017

Do horses like to show off?

Depends on the horse - but yes, quite a few of them love having an audience. (Sometimes they love having an audience a little bit too much).

They are highly social animals who like attention and the best show horses strut naturally without any real input from their handler.


Friday, March 17, 2017

Do horses deliberately kill other horses?

Very rarely. Most incidents of a horse injuring another horse fatally are accidents - they're large, powerful animals. Horses generally do not fight to the death, but they can fight quite badly. I know a mare who got into a fight with more than one pasturemate, which culminated in her killing another horse and being condemned to being turned out alone for the rest of her life (clearly she should have been isolated sooner, but she had previously been okay with a different companion).

Horses can be aggressive, but generally not murderous. Most horse fights happen when animals that don't get on are put together in a smaller pasture where they don't have space to leave each other alone.