Friday, January 16, 2009

The horse and his emotions

I came across an interesting article on Horse Channel called Equine Emotions. The author, Brenda Forsythe, talks about the age old question of whether animals really have emotions or can their reactions to certain events be explained by two basic animal drives (to stay alive and nurture offspring). The article is really a great read for anyone with horses.

In my very armature opinion I would tend to lean towards the "Horses have emotions" side of the argument. I remember a particular event where Red was being grazed by himself in a very large paddock complete with a small lake and forest area. I arrived at his paddock and couldn't see him anywhere and since the paddock was absolutely massive I decided to call him rather then go look for him. I called and within a few seconds I heard a loud whinny from a long way away and he galloped out of the forest a couple of minutes later. He came straight up to me and was lavished with love and affection. To me, he seemed lonely and wanted company. Later when I moved him to Pony Club and he was in with his own kind, he would sometimes run away from me when I went to the paddock to get him and only came up to me every once in awhile. Obviously he wasn't lacking company anymore and so didn't feel lonely. In both these events, Red was fed and so in theory the food could have motivated him to come galloping up to me but if we're sticking with that train of thought he would have had the same reaction while he was at Pony Club. Of course it could have just have been really really hungry when he was grazed by himself, but I doubt it.

What do you think? Do you believe your horse has emotions?


Colste said...

I started writing this comment at first by saying Absolutely! My horse definitely has emotions....but as I started thinking about seems that everything I can think of...somehow...can be related to a horse's survival instinct. Let's take your experiences for example. When Red was grazing by himself and not with a herd, he could have felt vulnerable to predators since horses have an instinct to stay in herds to better their chances of survival if they are attacked. Your horse could have recognized your voice and came running because he associated you with being secure and he trusts you....therefore including you in his "herd" which creates a safer environment for him should he be attacked. At the Pony Club, he already had a herd to protect him, so he wasn't that inclined to join you immediately because doing so would jeopardize the herd and make him more vulnerable.

So, when I started to think about this....I thought about things my horse does that at first seem like emotions. For instance, on some rides he's playful, on some rides he's moody, and some rides he's serious. Well, these could be explained by his energy level and/or focus that day not really his feelings towards me.

But it would be HIS emotions, right? Because HE is feeling moody or excited or playful or nervous so those are HIS emotions. What about how one horse gets attached to another. I had a TB mare that was VERY attached to another TB gelding. It seemed like she loved him soooo much....but really, couldn't that be just her instinct to be close to another horse....the same herd mentality?

HAHA! I'm a little torn between this! I think horses act a lot of the times because of their natural instincts but ultimately, I do believe that horses have emotions. They can love humans just like they can love another horse. They can be sad, moody, excited, nervous, playful, etc. just like we can.

I'm not sure about embarrassed....have you ever had an instance where you thought your horse might be embarrassed?

Beckz said...

At uni we had a discussion about emotions versus feelings. Feelings are things like love, melancholy that sort of thing versus emotions being things like fear, excitement- feelings that are not only in the head by cause a physical response as well.

I think horses have emotions but not feelings. Most things horses do can be explained by drive to survive and reproduce, and herd instinct. The only exception I can think is that we had two horses that had been seperated for years and then when they saw each other from a distance they went nuts until they were next to each other again. I was surprised how long their bond has lasted especially because they had other company.

Katie said...

Wow this was a bit more of a discussion then I anticipated. For some reason my brain is refusing to concentrate and I can't process all this information properly so I'm going to have to get back to this once my mind gets back to normal.