Study Shows That When They’re Happy, Horses Make a Funny Sound

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According to a research published this week in PLoS One, horses show they’re happy by snorting. The authors of the study explain that the findings could help improve treatment of the equines.

Researchers at the University of Rennes in France observed that horses snort a lot more when they are moved into better living conditions – like going on pastures with food and more space.

Alban Lemasson is an ethologist from the University of Rennes and one of the authors of the study, explaining:

“There are three important things for horses. They’re very special animals. Being isolated for a long time is not something they like—they are social. They also like to graze for long hours, not three discrete meals a day. And they like to walk around a lot outdoors. Tiny stalls for long hours are not great for them.”

Counting The Snorts

They considered that outside, with other horses and in large pastures with a lot of food, horses are happier. So they theorized that a sign of happiness would be snorting. To test the theory, researchers started counting the snorts of horses in different environments.

Ethology Ph.D. student Mathilde Stomp (University of Rennes) is the leader of the group of researchers. Together, they observed 48 horses in three different settings: in two, horses lived in two riding schools and lived for different amounts of time in stalls and pastures, while one group of horses always roamed in pastures.

Researchers kept track of the number of snorts in the different settings and the way they behaved, which indicate their mood and well-being. If a horse’s ears are pointed towards the back, they are in pain. If the ears are forward or sideways, they feel good. If they stay in their stalls with the face pointing at the walls, they’re not happy.

The researchers compared the behaviors and compared the score to the number of snorts. The less a horse was stressed, the more it snorted. The group of horses that lived most of their days in the outdoors socializing, roaming and grazing, snorted considerably more than those in riding schools.

When moved from the stalls to pasture with more food, horses of all ages or sexes snorted up to 10 more times than inside the stalls.

A Better Life For Our Animals

Katrina Merkies, an ethologist at the University of Guelph agrees with the study’s conclusions, saying that making not of the horse’s indicator of comfort and well-being, “we can promote better welfare for our animals.” She concludes that if they can measure their happiness, we could “provide them with a life worth living.”

Rex Austin

Rex Austinwas born and raised in Thunder Bay Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. Apart from running his own podcast (Ice Fishing And Other “Cool” Things), he spends his time canoeing and backpacking in Northern Ontario.. As a journalist Rex has published stories for Global News (Thunder Bay) we well as Buzz Feed and Joystiq. As a contributor to Great Lakes Ledger, Rex most covers science and health stories. Contact Rexhere

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