Will He Remember You?
You remember every horse that’s been part of your life. But would those horses still remember you?
“I am convinced that horses are every bit as smart as dogs, which do recognize people from the past,” Sue McDonnell, PhD, says. “Horses also make associations, good and bad, with people and they can read honest expressions of emotions.”
Leanne Proops, PhD, has done research that backs up that belief. In her study, horses were shown photos of an unknown person wearing an expression of either anger or happiness. Hours later, they met the model in person, now wearing a neutral expression. Their reactions (as indicated by behavior and heart rate) depended on the expression the model had shown in the photo: They were warier if they’d seen the angry photo and more relaxed if they’d seen the happy one. Models didn’t know which expression the horses had seen, so they couldn’t unintentionally influence the reaction.
“Our research shows that horses can remember previously unknown individuals for at least several hours based on a short presentation of their photographs,” Dr. Proops says, adding, “I don’t know of any research that has looked at the maximal amount of time horses remember their previous owners. I would expect this to be a very long time, however, given what we know about their long-term memory and anecdotal reports.”