Mythbuster Monday: Horses Don’t Remember Previous Pasture Mates or Owners

On Mythbuster Monday, we tackle a variety of equestrian myths to either bust or confirm. Today’s discussion: Do horses remember previous pasture mates and owners after being separated from them?

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: Do horses remember their previous pasture mates or owners?  How long do horses remember them for? Do horses have good memory? Read further to find out!

Myth: Horses don’t remember previous pasture mates or owners

Myth or Fact: Myth


Memory in horses hasn’t been studied as much as it has been in humans or other animals, but the research that has been completed is interesting. Equine memory differs from human memory in key ways and understanding the differences can be an eye-opening experience.

But, do horses have the memory to remember previous pasture mates and owners?


According to an article by Practical Horsemen, a horse’s memories are based on experience alone. They link their experiences to circumstances to aid in survival. Dr. McDonnell states that horses have a photographic memory of places where they experienced a traumatic negative experience. They can remember things such as what the veterinarian wears, what certain people smell like, and the sound of the farrier’s truck.

This article explains how we as humans fail to realize how quickly horses make these memories and how strong they are. Researchers state that horses display single-trial aversion learning — meaning that one bad experience is enough to create resistance for a lifetime.

Whether or not horses remember their pasture mates relates to the length of time they were pastured together and if they were particularly fond of the other horse. In some studies, horses showed recognition of past stable mates. However, in other studies, horses seemed to not remember past buddies. This may not mean they don’t remember them, just that they have just formed stronger bonds with newer pasture mates and prefer to keep those bonds over rekindling with the past buddy.

Most likely, a horse will remember a previous owner. Horses make good or bad associations with humans and have good judgement of emotion. In one study, horses were shown a photo of a compete stranger with an angry expression. Later on, the horse was greeted by the person while they had a neutral expression. Although the person had a neutral expression when greeting the horse, the horses responded to the angry expression in the photo. This was measured by heart rate and horse behavior.


Another article by River Ranch Educational Charities asserts that horses can tell people and pasture mates apart by smell, hearing and sight. Studies showed that when absent, horses remembered previous pasture mates and owners for up to 10 years.

After years of being in contact with an owner, horses will remember the owner’s facial expressions and correlate these expressions with behavior. Psychologist Leanne Proops writes that this is the first animal to show this much skill in recognization.


The consensus is that horses do remember their old pasture mates and owners. Horses have sophisticated recognition skills. They can remember a person or pasture mate after just one encounter but it depends on the positive or negative impact of the experiences.

Do you have an equine myth you’d like us to tackle? If so, send it our way! Email your suggestions to [email protected]. Put Mythbuster Monday in your subject line.