On Mythbuster Monday, we tackle a variety of equestrian myths to either bust or confirm. Today’s discussion: Can a horse’s heart rate influence a human’s heart rate and visa versa?
It’s Mythbuster Monday, where Horse Nation dives into different equestrian myths and provides research-based evidence to either bust or confirm those myths. Today’s topic: Can a horse’s heart rate influence a human’s heart rate? Can a human’s heart rate influence a horse’s? Is it only during certain activities? Read further to find out!
Myth: A horse’s heart rate can influence a human’s heart rate and visa versa
Myth or Fact: Fact
Horses discriminate between their owners and strangers by visual and vocal cues. They form long-lasting memories of familiar handlers. Horses have proven their ability to remember handlers long after their last encounter with them.
The ability to do this stems from utilizing a process through which they associate specific humans with a positive, negative, or neutral impact. To a horse, interactions with humans have an emotional charge. We are now learning that this is also true for humans.
In the article, “Animal Behavior and Welfare,” horses’ heartbeats were analyzed with familiar and unfamiliar handlers. The data showed that horses had lower heart rates and felt more relaxed when groomed by a familiar handler compared to the same task being done by someone unfamiliar. It was noted that as a horse spent more time with a person, they created a more intimate bond with that person. This correlated to the horse and handler’s heart rates.
The Horse also published an article discussing horse-human heart coupling. They conducted research where they had an individual ride the same horse from point A to point B four times. On the fourth time, they told the rider an umbrella would open at a certain point. An umbrella was never opened, but in all cases, both the horse’s and rider’s heart rate increased where the rider thought the umbrella was going to open.
A study in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior analyzed horse and human heart rates by blindfolding different types of humans (calm human comfortable around horses, physically stressed human, or psychologically stressed human due to fear of horses), and placing them in a round pen with the horse. The study showed that horses exhibited lower heart rates with humans that were physically or psychologically stressed. Horses also moved slower and carried their heads lower with these types of individuals. This is said to aid the individual in also their heart rate.
Another article that continues this research was published by Horse Sport. In the study they discuss, there was a stronger correlation between owner and horse heart rate when the two were in the same stall, but when they were in the same barn but apart, there was no correlation in heart rate. Coupling was only observed when the two were in close proximity but both still had the option to freely move around.
Contemporary Therapies in Clinical Practice released a research article with a sample size of 432 individuals. In this study, they examined the human heart rate along with other characteristics when the individual was in the presence of horses. Results indicated that the horses’ cadenced motion, the heat of the horse, the heart rate of the horse, and the horse’s cortisol, oxytocin, and serotonin levels all contributed to an induced state of relaxation for individuals. The study stated that heart rates were the best marker of the study in that individuals heart rates decreased around horses and were higher when horses were absent.
Overall, there is a correlation between a horse’s heart rate and a human’s. The more a horse knows its handler, the more common it is to see heart coupling. Horses also decrease their heart rate when they notice a person is in physical or psychological distress. Horses are aware of and very in tune with their owners. So much so, that they remember them long after their last interaction.
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