ETHICAL HORSEMANSHIP

Equine Emotions: How horses feel?

Introduction

In the vast and intricate world of horsemanship, understanding our equine companions goes beyond mastering riding techniques or training methods. At the heart of every interaction, every partnership, lies a deeper understanding of equine emotions. Have you ever paused to wonder, “How do horses feel?” What emotions do they experience, and how do these emotions shape their behavior and interactions with the world around them?

Dr. Jaak Panksepp, a pioneering neuroscientist, delved into the emotional lives of mammals and identified seven primary emotional systems that provide valuable insights into how animals, including horses, experience and express their emotions. These emotional systems offer a window into the rich and complex emotional world of horses, shedding light on their feelings of curiosity, joy, fear, and more.

The Seven Emotional Systems of Dr. Panksepp

Dr. Jaak Panksepp, a renowned neuroscientist, identified seven primary emotional systems in mammals, including horses. These emotional systems provide insights into how animals, including horses, experience and express their emotions. Let’s explore these seven emotional systems and understand how they manifest in horses:

The Seeking System

The SEEKING system drives exploration, curiosity, and the pursuit of rewards. In horses, this system can be observed when they exhibit curiosity, investigate new objects or environments, and engage in exploratory behaviors.

The Rage System

The RAGE system is associated with feelings of anger, frustration, and aggression. In horses, this system can be activated when they feel threatened, frustrated, or in pain, leading to behaviors such as kicking, biting, or charging.

The Fear System

The FEAR system is linked to feelings of fear, anxiety, and avoidance. In horses, this system can be triggered by perceived threats or unfamiliar situations, leading to behaviors such as spooking, bolting, or freezing.

The Lust System

The LUST system is associated with feelings of sexual attraction and mating behaviors. In horses, this system is activated during breeding season or when exposed to a potential mate, leading to behaviors such as vocalization, tail flagging, and mounting.

The Care System

The CARE system is linked to feelings of nurturing, caregiving, and social bonding. In horses, this system can be observed when they display caring behaviors towards their offspring, herd mates, or even humans, such as gentle nudging or protective posturing.

The Panic/Grief System

The PANIC/GRIEF system is associated with feelings of panic, loss, and separation distress. In horses, this system can be activated when they are separated from their herd mates or experience a loss, leading to behaviors such as restlessness, vocalization, and a decrease in appetite.

The Play System

The PLAY system drives feelings of joy, excitement, and engagement in playful behaviors. In horses, this system can be observed when they engage in playful activities such as running, bucking, and chasing, especially during turnout or social interactions with other horses.

Questioning Our Understanding: Tolerance vs. True Emotions

While understanding Dr. Panksepp’s seven emotional systems provides valuable insights into how horses feel, it’s essential to remember that horses, like humans, are individuals with unique personalities and experiences.

Everything a horse does or allows us to do doesn’t always mean it likes it. Horses are tolerant animals, and we often interpret this tolerance as a sign of well-being and joy. But what if this tolerance masks their true feelings? If we don’t let our horses say no to certain things, how can we know if what they allow us to do is truly an expression of consent and pleasantness rather than mere tolerance?

Building Trust Through Two-Way Communication

Do you let your horse say no? Do you interact with him having a two-way communication? It’s essential to listen to your horse, respect their feelings, and build a relationship based on trust, understanding, and mutual respect. By embracing two-way communication, we can better understand our horses’ true emotions and create a fulfilling partnership based on love and trust.

Conclusion

Understanding equine emotions is a journey filled with connection, reflection, and growth. By exploring Dr. Panksepp’s seven emotional systems, questioning our beliefs, and embracing two-way communication with our horses, we can deepen our understanding, build stronger relationships, and create a fulfilling partnership with our equine companions.

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