Horses may not be able to use words to tell humans that they are happy, but according to a new study, they are able to communicate positive emotions through their snorts.
Some people may think that horses make snorting sounds when they are annoyed or to shoo away insects. Researchers, however, have determined that snorting is how horses say that they like what was happening around them.
How Do Horses Express Happiness?
According to new research from scientists at the University of Rennes in France, horses tend to snort when they are placed in better living conditions.
The study, which was published in the PLOS One journal, identified three important things for horses. These three things are socialization, as they do not like being isolated for a long time; unlimited grazing, instead of being fed for a specific number of times each day; and wide outdoor spaces.
The theory was that, if horses were in the company of others as they grazed all day in big outdoor pastures, they would be snorting more as a sign of their happiness.
To test the theory, the team behind the study, led by ethology doctorate student Mathilde Stomp, studied 48 horses in three different settings. Two groups of horses lived in riding schools and spent different amounts of time in stalls and pastures, while the third group of horses was always roaming in pastures.
The researchers monitored how many times horses snorted in the different settings, as well as instances of other behavior that indicated their mood. For example, ears pointed backward mean pain or discomfort, while ears pointed forward or to the side mean happiness.
Stomp and her colleagues used their observations to calculate the chronic stress scores for each horse and compared that data to how much they snorted. As expected, horses in natural settings snorted much more often compared to the horses that were living in the riding schools.
According to Stomp, the inspiration of the study was to help people in better understanding and meeting the needs of horses. University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine equine physiology and behavior specialist Sue McDonnell, however, said that the study is not enough to draw conclusions based on the snorts of horses.
Horses Are Emotional Animals
The discovery that horses express happiness through snorting adds to the idea that they are very emotional animals.
A recent study revealed that horses remember people that they first see in pictures when they meet them through their emotional expressions. For example, if horses see an angry man in a photo, they will consider him as a threat when they meet in real life.