Have you ever had a horse respond to you in such a way that
you were convinced it was expressing an emotion?
Well, you may have been right. A recent pilot study, titled
“Horses and Human Energetics: The Study of Heart Rate
Variability (HRV) Between Horses and Humans” suggests a
connection between the heat rate of horses and the emotional
states of the people nearby.
There’s an old adage that horses can smell fear. And I do
know, as a former trail guide, that horses can, the minute a
new rider gets on their backs, tell exactly how much they’ll
be able to get away with. Horses that would spend thirty
minutes of a one-hour ride stopping by the trailside to
snack with a novice rider would, with an experienced one,
behave like equitation champions. And they could tell the
difference as soon as they were mounted.
I have to believe that a rider communicates either
confidence, of nervousness, to a horse. Some horses will
respond to nerves by becoming nervous themselves, but others
will see an opening and take charge of the outing by doing
as they please.
So the results of the new study, done by the Institute of
Heart Math and Professor Ellen Gehrke of Alliant
International University, in San Diego, CA, don’t really
Dr. Gehrke participated directly in the study, which she
conducted at her ranch with four of her own horses. She and
the horses wore ECG (electrocardiogram) monitors for a
24-hour period, and followed their accustomed schedule of
care and activity, being fed, groomed, ridden, or left alone
as they normally were.
Research on humans has shown that stress will have a
detrimental effect on the “coherence” of their heart rhythm
variability–the intervals between heartbeats. A high
HRV–longer period between heartbeats—indicates fitness and
a smoothly functioning circulatory system, while a low HRV
means that the heart is not getting much rest and can often
be traced to hypertension or shock. Stress can also be a
factor in HRV coherence. Dr. Gehrke’s study indicated that
her horses” HRV coherence was greatest during her “quiet
times’ with them, suggesting that the horses’ emotions were
responding to her relaxed state.
One of my family’s legendary equines was a cross-bred cow
pony named “Cammy”. Cammy was our only gelding, and as such
was the protector of our herd of mares, which ranged in size
over the years from six to ten. During the winter, Cammy
and his harem would be turned out to get lazy and fat on our
seven hundred acres of pasture, but as we of the younger
generation grew up, and were able to spend less time at the
ranch, our family would periodically donate one of the mares
to a riding school which offered lessons to disabled
I don’t know how Cammy knew, but every couple of years, when
the truck would come transport one of his mares away, he
would be waiting. It was never the same truck, and he never
had a problem when we would bring other trailers to collect
the mares for our own summer’s riding. But when the school
sent a truck, he would spend hours herding the mares away
from it, and once even tried to grab the driver by the
collar and shake him.
I have always toyed with the idea that Cammy was a mind
reader. It now appears that I was right!