Did you know that horses can read human emotions, too, often in uncannily accurate ways, alerting us to our sadness or nervousness, sometimes before we’ve even consciously registered it? You know how it’s said: No philosophers so thoroughly comprehend us as dogs and horses.
The equine ability to read human emotion through sound and touch is exquisite. But horses can also read the expression on a person’s face. This sophisticated capacity has only ever previously been demonstrated in dogs. While horses can’t see color and have a blind spot directly in front of them due to their eyes positioned on the side of their head, their vision is actually more acute than domestic cats or dogs.
Horses read us acutely. Sometimes they don’t understand the human motivations behind our emotional responses, and sometimes they don’t respond as a human would. But they know.
Horse herds operate on a level that is often imperceptible to us – a system of tiny movements, gestures, tension and release, pheromones, and other signals. So everything we do has meaning to them, even when we have no idea that we are doing it.
Horses who have a caring relationship with a human may respond with tremendous and practical compassion to that human’s needs. But these relationships are very special and don’t just happen. They require trust and learning together and being open to each other as sentient and intelligent beings. Until that relationship is well underway, a horse may respond with anxiety or fear to our sadness, fear, or pain.
Some horses offer calm compassion to every human they meet. These horses are often employed in therapy programs, and they are genuine examples of how to be in the world. But, unfortunately, there are also horses whose histories are full of fear and pain, and our negative emotions will trigger that. But however they react, believe me, horses know.