Do horses get sad when they are sold?

Do horses get sad when they are sold?

My friend  fosters horses and owns some horses  and I was talking to her the other day about do horses grieve when they are sold ?  

This got me wondering if horses feel sad when they are sold . 

I’m sure many of us (including myself) believe that horses comprehend what we say to them, but I wanted to be sure, so I decided to do my own research.

Yes. They grieve. They like to stick to a familiar routine and they care about their people as well as the horses in the stable they live with. They develop friendships as well as animosities that they will maintain the rest of their lives.

Most horses adjust well when sold. Most horses are friendly and well-adjusted. Within a few weeks they feel at home in a new place. 

They make friends where ever they go and they get to liking new people. 

And most of them know to be quiet and unassuming when they are introduced to a new group of horses.

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Do horses remember their old owners?

So, do horses remember who they belong to? Many experts believe that horses do remember their owners. 

According to studies conducted over the years, horses remember their owners in the same manner that they remember another horse. 

Past experiences, memories, and sensory cues all convey information to the horse about who a person is.

Horses in fact remember their owners, as we now know. However, how is this possible? 

Horses have remarkable memories, allowing them to remember people for extended periods of time, even after physical separation. 

This does not, however, imply that a horse will remember every person with whom it comes into contact.

Much research has been conducted on this subject, with the conclusion that horses can retain memories of people with whom they have favourable encounters. 

This relationship, once developed, is nearly indestructible.

A horse is likely to remember its owners based on a few things. Auditory signals are the first and most important component on which a horse relies. 

Your horse develops a connection between your speech and your physical look. Horses can also know your normal postures and motions while you are in their company.

Last but not least, horses remember things by learning to recognise and anticipate actions and responses in a specific order. 

Years of training and engagement have taught your horse to anticipate responses based on your positive reinforcement and conditioning.

How do you know if your horse is sad?

According to a study conducted in France, domestic horses were tested for indicators of depression by comparing their behaviour to that exhibited by humans during depressive states

For six months, researchers studied the spontaneous behaviour of 59 working horses in their natural surroundings, with particular attention paid to periods of inactivity during which the horses adopted an unusual position.

The horses’ response to their environment, as well as their levels of anxiety, were also analysed, and the concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol in their blood were measured.

Researchers observed and documented all behaviours, paying particular attention to stationary intervals in which they observed a certain posture, dubbed “withdrawn,” that was distinct from other common stances.

Reference: “Investigating attentional processes in depressive-like domestic horses (Equus caballus), Behavioural Processes, March 2016

Those horses who exhibited the uncommon “withdrawn” posture stood stationary, with wide eyes, stretched necks (open jaw-neck angle), and the neck at approximately the same height as the back.

In contrast to that of a horse who is alert to his surroundings, whose neck is raised and ears move inquisitively, the horse in this position is more relaxed.

The open-eyed, dull, unfocused stare of a depressed and sad horse, as well as its motionless head and ears, reflect “behavioural despair.” 

The withdrew horses in the study were more apathetic and unresponsive to cues in their home surroundings, yet reacted more emotionally to demanding situations, when compared to “non-withdrawn” horses from the same stable.

A resting horse, on the other hand, is in a relaxed state, often cocking or relaxing one hind leg, rotating ears laterally, allowing the eyelids and lips to droop, as well as holding his neck in a lower and rounder position.

Do horses experience sadness? Do Horses Have Emotions?

Animals definitely have emotions, and more and more people are beginning to recognise this fact. 

Although not as intense or conscious as in humans, the emotions are nevertheless present and recognisable.

Horses can experience a wide range of emotions, including happiness, sadness, frustration, depression, fear, and excitement. They are, on the other hand, masters at concealing their feelings, which is especially useful if you aren’t sure what you’re looking for!

Getting to know a horse well allows you to better understand his feelings. 

Another skill is being an expert at interpreting the eye and facial expressions of horses.

In this fast-paced world that we humans live in, taking the time to be still and listen to your horse and interpret his feelings is a wonderful activity, albeit it might be difficult to accomplish at times. Slowing down is something that we as humans struggle with.

Horses, on the other hand, are unable to fully integrate into the human world. 

They are really quiet, placid creatures who are not preoccupied with the passage of time or the setting of agendas. 

In fact, it is there, in that peaceful area, that we will be able to pick up on their true feelings if we are willing to take the time to listen.

Because domesticated horses rely on us for their existence, it is our responsibility as their caretakers to provide them with the greatest possible care, both physically and psychologically… and emotionally.

Can a horse miss you?

In the event that you often visit the barn to spend quality time with your horse, there’s a strong likelihood that your horse has become accustomed to your presence.

While each individual relationship is unique, if you feel as though you have a close bond with your horse, the chances are that your horse feels the same way. 

In the event that you are missing your horse, there is a significant probability that they are as well. Once you’ve been a part of their routine, they’ll notice if you’re not there when they are.

Even if they aren’t aware of it, they are aware that something is different because of your absence.

For more about horses see our other articles below

Do horses get sad when they are sold?

About the Author: Dog Behavioural Consultant

Jennifer W loves Pets! She is an animal lover. She loves caring for and sharing her knowledge of all kinds of pets.

Her Love for pets made her Join the pet paws hub Team, to share knowledge with the world.

Jennifer WDog Behavioural Consultant


Horse Owners Perspective

Lansade, L., Nowak, R., Lainé, AL. et al. Facial expression and oxytocin as possible markers of positive emotions in horses. Sci Rep 8, 14680 (2018).

s41598-018-32993-z Facial Expressions of Horses

Reference: “Investigating attentional processes in depressive-like domestic horses (Equus caballus), Behavioural Processes, March 2016

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