Will He Re­mem­ber You?

Practical Horseman - - Inside Your Ride -

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.”

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