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Can Horses Sense When A Woman Is Pregnant?

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Explore the controversial topic of horses reacting differently to pregnant women. Is it just an amusing anecdote or a real, tangible change? Check out various claims and observations from pregnant equestrians. Let's dare to challenge the norm!

I recently heard someone ask this question before, and I wondered this myself when I was working at the barn during my pregnancy. I was curious to find out the answer, so I decided to do a little research. This is what I found out.

Can horses sense when a woman is pregnant? It’s very possible horses can sense when a woman is pregnant by smelling the change in pheromones and hormones.

Whether horses actively realize you are pregnant or are just reacting to the smells of pregnancy, it is hard to tell because we can’t talk with them and get a clear answer.

The horses may also be reacting to a change in your behavior as well as your changing appearance. Whatever it may be there are many stories of animals behaving differently around pregnant women including horses.

I decided to do more research into the idea of horses sensing pregnancy in women and whatever else I could find to help back up this case.

Horses Detecting Pregnancy Through Smell

Horses use their sense of smell for many things. This includes picking up the scent of an unseen predator in a breeze. Horses can also smell pheromones.

It is now known horses can smell human emotions. It’s believed that horses have between 25 to 100 million smell receptors from the olfactory and vomeronasal organ. This is compared to humans at  5-6 million olfactory receptors and around 300 million for dogs.

Have you ever seen a horse curl their upper lip and lift their head up? That is the horse using its vomeronasal organ. An organ that can smell pheromones and trap the scent temporarily.

Horses are usually triggered when they smell pheromones from the opposite sex or smells that are strong or strange to them.

A study was done to see horses’ can smell human emotions by testing reactions to human body odor produced under fear and happy states of emotion and observe the horse’s ability to be able to smell those emotions.

They detected that there were, in fact, similar changes to each of the nervous systems based on which scent they smelled.

The parasympathetic nervous system calm’s horses back to a relaxed state while the sympathetic nervous system is the flight or fight response.

In this study fear-induced the sympathetic nervous system, while the happy state induced the parasympathetic nervous system. Basically the horses could smell the people’s emotions through their sweat and be affected by it.

There have been no studies that I can find about horses’ ability to sense pregnancy through smell. This speculation based on findings.

The fact that horses can smell pheromones and hormones and they can interpret those smells within their horse community, makes me believe that it is possible for horses to smell when a woman becomes pregnant.

A woman’s odor is different during the pregnancy due to the new hormones and pheromones. I would suspect that the same hormones and pheromones that tell other horses a mare is pregnant, could also tell horses a human woman is pregnant.

Another piece I found out was that women tend to sweat more when they are pregnant so that could contribute to horses being able to tell if a woman is pregnant or not.

It would be really interesting to see a study done on whether horses can smell pregnancy with a pregnant human because many of us still work with horses during that time of our lives

Behavior Changes Woman Have Observed With Horses They Work With Or Own

Some women have experienced shifts in their horses’ behaviors when they became pregnant or when they stopped working with them regularly. I just want to give my two cents, seeing as I was a barn manager and took care of horses throughout my pregnancy .

Except for one horse, a mule, none of the horses changed significantly when I became pregnant. I am not sure if mules are more sensitive or not. But the behavior of the mule I took care of ended up changing.

She became more fearful and aggressive and actually kicked out at me a few times. It probably didn’t help that after those experiences I became nervous around her for fear my baby could get hurt if I got kicked

I stopped handling her for a period of time. But slowly gained her trust first over the fence with treats in a bucket and eventually hand grazing. After that, she thought I was her best friend. But before the pregnancy, she was fine toward me.

I can’t conclude it was due to the pregnancy she started acting that way. But just something to recognize and note.

Claims From Pregnant Equestrians About There Horses Behavior Changing

The owner had a hot head type mare that was not the easiest to handle. When she became pregnant the mare was suddenly gentle and very patient and would even rest her head on her owner’s belly.

Another owner’s horse began sniffing her belly after she became pregnant and wasn’t really showing her pregnancy at this point.

One owner’s horse became more aggressive and seemed to take advantage of the situation. Her horse would pull away and get loose and was more misbehaved in general. She ended up selling the horse.

There was one owner who had a mare who would never stand for mounting and always had a lot of go. She could also be a little spooky. When the owner became pregnant, the mare started standing to be mounted. Not only that, but she was not spooking at all. She seemed to take care of her owner and was not like herself at all. The mare returned to not standing at the mounting block and having her pep and go as soon as the baby was born.

A stallion had a puppy dog-like personality but was also pushy. When a handler of his hadn’t seen him in a little bit. He trotted over to see her. He became curious and sniffed her pregnant belly and immediately he started acting like a different horse.

A woman would ride her pony who wouldn’t settle, was high energy, and would prance around instead of walking. When she became pregnant, her pony was totally calm and not its usual self.

There was an owner that had three horses. When she became pregnant they all started to act differently. One horse started to follow her everywhere and the other two started to rest their heads on her belly

Another owner had a mare and she was nervous and spooky. The owner noticed when she became pregnant this mare seemed to have become more cautious around her and try to stay away.

There was a horse that would nudge his owner all the time and could get pushy. When the owner became pregnant the horse stopped those behaviors.

Out of all my research, it seems like the most common behavior horses displayed if there were any behavior changes, is that they would sniff the pregnant woman’s belly and the second most common was that they would become easier to handle and calmer.

There were a handful of people that so no changes in behavior from their horses and horses that they were around.

Other Reasons Horses Behaviors May Change During Pregnancy

Horses are very sensitive creatures and not only can they notice a change in your smells but they are great at noticing changes in how you appear and reading body language.

There is evidence-based on studies done with horses, that not only can horses smell human emotion but they can also read human facial expressions and then they can remember that person’s emotion.

“What we’ve found is that horses can not only read human facial expressions but they can also remember a person’s previous emotional state when they meet them later that day – and, crucially, that they adapt their behaviour accordingly,”

Karen McComb.

Horses are even able to notice slight changes in our posture. So if we look different while we are pregnant and we are acting differently in our behavior, even if it is only slightly and then we smell different as well.

Maybe the horses are just reacting to these factors or maybe these factors help them determine that you are in fact pregnant.

Horses seem to act differently around children and disabled people. I have seen that happen more often than not, in my over 20 years around horses.

They tend to be quieter and more gentle or they are more nervous and upset, or aggressive than how they normally behave. I have seen more horses become gentler in these circumstances rather than the negative behaviors.

Looking at the evidence it seems it is quite possible that horses can sense pregnancy through smells, reading body language, noticing small changes and reacting to changes in our behavior. Horses are very observant.

But seeing that there are no solid studies done on this topic it can only be left to best guess and speculation.

Cheers, Kacey

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Disclaimer Notice: Please be aware that horseback riding and related equestrian activities carry inherent risks. The advice and experiences shared on this blog are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional training or advice. Ensure your safety and that of your horse by wearing appropriate gear, practicing safe horse handling, and consulting with certified equestrian professionals. Remember, each horse is unique, and techniques may vary accordingly. Always prioritize safety, respect, and patience in your equestrian endeavors.

Kacey Cleary Administrator
Kacey has been an equestrian since 1998. She was a working student at several eventing and dressage barns. She has owned horses, leased horses, and trained horses. Kacey received an A.S. in Equine Industries from UMass Amherst, where she rode on the dressage team. She was certified with the ARIA and is licensed to teach riding in MA. She has been a barn manager and has run her own horse farm.
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