Investigating equestrians’ perceptions of horse happiness: An exploratory study

Tanja Bornmann, Hayley Randle, J. M. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
136 Downloads (Pure)


Happiness is a subjective feeling and associated with positive affective states that can indicate good welfare. It is becoming increasingly agreed that equestrians’ ability to recognise indicators of positive emotions has the potential to enhance overall horse wellbeing, but research in this area is limited. Therefore, this study investigated equestrians’ perceptions of horse happiness. A survey comprising 25 questions was distributed through equestrian-related social media (internationally) and yielded 332 valid responses. Frequency analysis was conducted within each factor category (e.g., rider type). Pearson chi-squared and Fisher’s exact test determined if differences occurred between the tested factor categories (significance level: p<.05). The majority of respondents believed that they were able to recognise when their horses were happy (94%, n=332;p<.0001) whilst 92.8% (n=332;p<.0001) believed that their horses could be described as happy. The majority of participants who indicated that they were able to recognise when their horses were happy also believed that their horses were: happy when they interacted with them (98.3%, n=295;p<.001); when they rode them (83%,n=270;p<.0001); when they worked them (i.e., unmounted work) (82.7%, n=312;p<.0001). The largest respondent proportion believed that horses who were very ‘forward’/energetic every time they were being ridden could be best described as “rather happy” (36.4%,n=332). Owners more frequently believed that horses were “rather happy” if they did not react to loud noises/scary objects (30.9%, n=285;p<.013). These results suggest that some equestrians may have overconfidence in interpreting equine affective states. Furthermore, some respondents may have incorrectly perceived behaviours potentially indicating negative emotions as indicators of happiness.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Equine Veterinary Science
Issue numberSept
Early online date25 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021


  • Affective state
  • Behavior
  • Equestrianism
  • Equine emotion
  • Happiness
  • Horse welfare


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