Do horses smell fear?

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Everyone has heard that horses can sense when you are afraid, but is this true? I believe it is, and I think it is simply a part of how horses and people can communicate. Horses receive signals from the human via body language and by sensing intent. It is said that this sixth sense can even allow zebras to sense when lions are hungry or full. The last day I saw my horse I think he knew that it was our last day together just from how I acted. He was very calm and obedient, which is by no means normal for him.
The way you hold your body, move around the horse, or even how you look at them also send signals revealing your mood or intent. When lunging (exercising the horse on a long lead line from the ground), if you hunch over and step forward purposefully towards their hind end, they will see an aggressive stance and speed up. If you stand straight and relaxed, body lined up with the shoulder and not looking directly at the horse, they will be put more at ease and will slow down.
When sitting on the horse, you can use different techniques to communicate including leg, seat, and rein aids, and shifting body weight. For example, when I want the horse to shift his weight back onto his haunches more, I sit deeper into the saddle, as if to mimick that movement. If the horse is drifting to the left, I use left leg and rein as if to "close the door". At shows when my horse is very nervous and on edge, I have to take some deep breaths and steady myself in order to calm him down. A steady hand and heart rate will make it easier to reassure him that everything is going to be ok. Here's another article that goes into some detail about communication between horse and rider.

1 Comment

I actually love horses so this article is awesome. I would have to agree with your hypothesis that horses sense fear in the presence of others. After completing my blog and learning about the emotions and feeling elephants have, I'm interested to learn about all animals. I came across this article you should check out about a number of animals and sensing fear

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