Two Hearts Beat as One

Do you have a special bond with your horse? New research shows that the concept of a “heart horse” may be more accurate than you think. Marcel Montañez, an associate professor and associate department head in NMSU’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences’ Family and Consumer Sciences Department, wants to explore that bond between horses and humans.

Montañez’s heartbeat research explores hypotheses that claim horses synchronize their heartbeats with other horses in the herd, and that when among a group of people, they synchronize their heartbeats with the person who’s in charge. Some articles I’ve read suggest that a horse has the ability to hear a human heartbeat from four feet away (although I have not yet found a research study)

He began researching the topic in 2013, and has been focusing on heartbeat studies and looking into why humans project emotions onto animate objects, such as pets and vehicles.

“Some of the research that we’re starting to look at out here is trying to investigate that and see when it’s true and when it’s not true,” Montañez said. “If we put several people out here, whose heartbeat is the horse going to synchronize with? We start to learn about herd dynamics and how they work.”

“I grew up on a ranch and I’ve had a lot of interaction with horses,” Whetten, one of the Research Assistants, said. “One of the big things that drew me to this program was the opportunity to uses horses in therapy sessions, since I’m so attached to them because of my background. I find it super interesting to prove that (equine-assisted psychotherapy) works not just on an emotional level but on a physical level. That (the research) seems pretty exciting to me.”

Findings from this study and others will also be used to evaluate the consequences of equine assisted therapy (EAT) on horses and to help improve the beneficial effects of EAT in human beings.

In the meantime, the next time you are at the barn, think about how your heartbeat might be influencing your horse and try to act like a leader.


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