Horses are a unique species and they have been an important part of human culture for thousands of years. The sculpted horses in ancient Greece and Rome are masterful depictions of the anatomy of a horse. The equine’s physiology, how it works, has been studied and understood for centuries. However, the study of behavior in animals, including horses, is a relatively new scientific field. Medical scientists like Jung, Freud and Adler began the analytical study of animal behavior in the late nineteenth century. In the past, animal behavior was simply observed and recorded. However, today, with the help of technology, scientists are able to analyze and understand animal behavior at a much deeper level than ever before.
Horse organism behavior is a complex process that occurs at the cellular, hormonal and behavioral levels. In the wild, horses respond to environmental stimuli with a combination of physiological and behavioral responses that are designed to restore homeostasis after the disruption caused by noxious environmental conditions or external stressors. In the stable, horses may experience stress due to a variety of situations including social separation, exercise, riding discomfort or novel objects in their environment. In order to manage these stresses, horses use a variety of behavioral and physiological responses including the measurement of heart rate variability (HRV).
A horse’s natural behavior is designed to protect itself from predator attacks, disease, starvation, storms, floods, droughts, parasites, competition with other herd members and competition for food resources. Horses can be very good at desensitizing to frightening stimuli, which is one of the reasons that they are so suitable for domestication as a draft animal. In addition to being a very effective draft animal, a highly-trained horse can perform many other tasks such as riding, driving, jumping and endurance races.
In captivity, horses must establish dominance hierarchies over their herds to ensure that everyone gets enough space and a chance to eat. A herd sire, for example, will bunch up his harem and forbid movement. A horse is also a flight species and, as such, can be more quickly and permanently desensitized to terrifying sensory stimuli than other animals.
When horses are in an unfamiliar setting, they will attempt to familiarize themselves with it by examining the landscape and surroundings for a water source. This exploration can be a source of conflict with other herd members and with humans as well. It is important for horse caretakers to be aware of these natural behaviors, which may become a cause for concern in some settings, and take steps to limit them when possible.
One of the most intriguing aspects of a horse is its ability to communicate with other animals in a language of body movements that is based on rhythm. Researchers have found that horses and dogs can play together and mimic each other’s facial expressions in a rapid and mutually understood manner. The discovery may reveal an underlying “language of play” that helps these two species to bond, suggests a recent study in the journal Behavioural Processes.