Investigating equestrians’ perceptions of horse happiness: An exploratory study

Tanja Bornmann, Hayley Randle, Jane Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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 recognize 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 recognize 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 recognize 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 behaviors potentially indicating negative emotions as indicators of happiness.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103697
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Equine Veterinary Science
Early online date25 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021


Dive into the research topics of 'Investigating equestrians’ perceptions of horse happiness: An exploratory study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this