How Accurate are Equestrians in Interpreting Horse Happiness?

Happiness is a subjective feeling of a positive emotional mental state that is associated with good welfare of animals. Therefore, the ability to recognize happiness in animals has tremendous potential to improve their overall well-being. Researchers from Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom surveyed horse owners and riders’ beliefs regarding their horse’s happiness.

The majority of respondents were Canadian (35%) and British (31%), almost exclusively women (97%), average age of 44 years, horse-owning (86%) with more than 20 years of equestrian experience (62%) who used their horses for leisure (63%) and competitive (29%) riding. Most people (94%) thought they could recognize when their horses were happy and 93% also thought their horses were generally happy. They believed their horses were happy when they interacted with them (98%), when they were being ridden (83%) and when they did groundwork (83%).

Respondents thought being very energetic and forward every time they were ridden was a sign of their horse’s happiness, but the behavioral researchers disagreed with that interpretation. They concluded that many equestrians are probably overconfident in their ability to recognize positive emotional states in horses and may misinterpret signs of happiness in their horses. Fortunately, they also believe education of equestrians on these subjects could make a positive contribution to improving equine welfare.

  Bornmann T et al. JEVS 104;2021:in press

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Albert Kane

Albert J. Kane, DVM, MPVM, Ph.D.

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