Jul 03 2009

Horses React to Human Heart Rates, Study Finds

Published by under Training & Behavior

July 01 2009, Article # 14464 from

An increase in a human’s heart rate affects the heart rate of the horse they are leading or riding, researchers at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences recently reported.

Linda Keeling, PhD, and colleagues tested horses and riders to see if humans inadvertently communicate fear and anxiety to horses. Using heart rate as a fear indicator, the researchers asked 20 people with varying levels of horse experience to walk and ride 10 horses from Point A to Point B four times. The researchers told participants an umbrella would open as they rode or led the horse on the fourth pass. The umbrella never opened, but heart rates in both horses and humans increased during the fourth trip between the points, when the human expected the umbrella to open.

“The increase in the horses’ heart rates probably means that they are more alert and prepared to react to any potential danger,” Keeling said. “In the wild, horses are adapted to respond to other animals in their group. A startle reaction is more likely when the horse is very alert.”

If you are a nervous person leading or riding a horse, your nervousness might increase the likelihood of the “spook” that you are anxious to avoid.

The study, “Investigating horse-human interactions: the effect of a nervous human,” was published in the July 2009 issue of The Veterinary Journal. The abstract is available on PubMed.

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Horses React to Human Heart Rates, Study Finds”

  1. Phil Waigandon 27 Jul 2009 at 6:11 pm

    Also, the rider and horse can share in the rhythm of the music which
    is like the heart beat. Music is in many ways is an extension of the
    heart beat. I like the idea of “THE BEAT”(Heart Hoof Drum) which
    is about sharing basic rhythms. THANKS! Phil Waigand Arlington, TX

  2. Moniqueon 29 Jul 2009 at 7:32 pm

    I totally agree! My daughter found that her Arabian LOVES music. It calms him down, he looks for the source of it (the radio) and seems to listen…Would be fun to see if he responds differently to different genres (ie classical, pop, punk…)

  3. Anne Gageon 23 Mar 2010 at 1:34 pm

    I encourage my students to practice deep breathing & relaxation techniques before they ride and as part of their warm up in the saddle. As they breathe deeply and release the tension from the back of their necks and their shoulders, the horses do the same. The horses always mirror the riders’ posture, breathing and body tension.

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