Study Finds That Horses Can Smell Human Fear

Written by:

PetMD Editorial
Published: January 14, 2019

Image via KAZLOVA

A study conducted by Dr. Antonio Lanata and colleagues at the University of Pisa in Italy suggests that horses are capable of smelling fear in humans.

Horse & Hound explains, “An Italian investigation monitored the heart rate of horses in response to human body odors, and appeared to show that equines displayed different responses to ‘fear’ and ‘happiness.’”

To put their hypothesis to the test, the researchers had their human subjects watch 25-minute videos that either induced happiness or fear. They then used sterile pads to collect sweat samples from the armpits of their subjects.

Horse & Hound reports, “Seven horses were then recruited for the study, and after baseline ECGs were taken, they were approached in their boxes by an unfamiliar person, who scented their hands in turn with test tube samples of fearful and happy odors, as well as a third ‘no odor’ sample.” They then used ECG signals to record and analyze each horse’s response.

According to Horse & Hound, the purpose of the study was to “explore the mechanism by which human emotions could influence equine behavior, particularly the tendency of horses to perform ‘unexpected reactions’ when ridden by a ‘nervous person.’”

Their findings concluded that there is a correlation between a human’s odor and how a horse reacts to them. Horse & Hound quotes the report saying, “The results showed that human chemosignals affect the physiological status of horses as seen by the changes in their autonomic activity.”

By conducting this study, the researchers hope to help create a better understanding of horse behavior and provide more insight into what people perceive to be “unexpected” behavioral responses of horses to humans.

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