Do Horses Know Their Name? It’s likely, But Not How You Think

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Do horses know their name?

Any horse lover knows that domestic horses will respond to their name when called, but do they really know the name given to them?

According to horse behavior experts, horses can learn their name, but they most likely recognize the tone of your voice when you call them rather than the actual word that is their name. (1)

Horse names are something that their owners take a lot of time to choose, including strong female horse names. So, read on to learn more about a horse’s ability to know its name.

Key Takeaways

  • Horses can recognize voice tone
  • Horses are excellent at reading different emotions in your face
  • Some horses learn their name quickly, while others never understand it
  • It is possible for horses to become attached to a particular human

Do Horses Know Their Names As Dogs Do?

Do horses know their names? How do you decide how to name a horse?

According to Alice Ruet, Ph.D. horses can learn to respond to verbal cues, and although there is no scientific study to show they can recognize their names, it makes sense they would be able to (1)

Some researchers prefer to believe that horses recognize the tone of voice rather than their names. They know their owner wants their attention from a high-pitched tone, so they come.

This could be why some horses will respond to familiar voices and not unfamiliar voices.

Still, others say that names do not have any significance for horses and that humans started naming them as a convenience.

Facial expression may also play a part. A study found:

“Horses successfully discriminated between the two pictures of human faces (one expressing joy and the other expressing anger) based on their congruence with the vocalization they were hearing.”

“They could match the valence of the facial expression with the valence of the vocalization, meaning that they could assign these two stimuli that have different natures to the same correct emotional category.” (2)

There is quite a bit of discourse on this topic, but here is a video of horses coming when called for you to decide what you think.

How Long Will It Take For a Horse to Know Its Name?

This depends on the learning capacity of each horse. Some will learn their name after a few training sessions, while others will go years without knowing their name.

The ability of your horse to know its name also depends on your consistency in training them to respond to it.

Training a horse to do anything requires patience, consistency, and repetition. Here is a video showing how to train a horse to come when called.

Does It Confuse a Horse to Change Its Name?

Can you change a horse’s name? You can change your horse’s barn name at any time, but you can only change their registered name if they have a clean show record and fill out the right paperwork.

Some horse owners worry about confusing a horse if they give them a new name. Whether or not the change will be confusing, again, depends on the horse.

Some horses will adapt to and enjoy a new name, while others will always respond to the first name they were given despite several name changes.

Do Horses Remember Their Names?

Horses likely do not understand words the same way humans do. So, they probably do not remember the names given to them. How can they remember without understanding?

horse with name Jackie but can you rename a horse

However, horses can remember and recognize the tone of voice of different people. They will do this if they are not trained to answer to a specific name.

If a horse’s name is repeated enough around them, they probably start to remember both the name and tone used when saying it.

Horses are very intelligent animals. They are smart enough to use and adapt nonverbal signals to tell the person or people taking care of them when they are hungry. (3)

With this in mind, it is clear that horses have the capacity for learning and remembering. In the end, the choice to remember their name is up to them and their owner.

Related: Why Are Racehorse Names So Weird?

FAQs

Do horses form attachments to their owners?

Horses become emotionally attached to their owners because they recognize them as their caretakers, and may also bond with humans by engaging in trust-building behavior like mutual grooming.

Do horses recognize their owners?

smiling lady holding the horse in the stall

Horses remember each of their owners using visual and auditory cues such as the human voice, as well as past memories. I even know a horse that recognizes his mom’s car when it arrives at the barn!

Do horses remember humans?

Yes, horses have excellent social cognition, and studies found that they can recognize faces, in photographs. (4)

Conclusion

Do horses know their name? Most horses respond to the tone of voice rather than the word that is their name. However, they can learn to respond to their name and come when called through consistent training.

Do you agree with these conclusions that researchers have made? What do you think? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.

lady cuddling with her adorable horse

References

1. MA CL-L. Do Horses Know Their Names? Probably, But It’s Complicated [Internet]. The Horse. 2022. Available from: https://thehorse.com/1109140/do-horses-know-their-names-probably-but-its-complicated/

2. Trösch, Cuzol, Parias, Calandreau, Nowak, Lansade. Horses Categorize Human Emotions Cross-Modally Based on Facial Expression and Non-Verbal Vocalizations. Animals. 2019;9:862.

3. How Smart Are Horses? [Internet]. NPR.org. Available from: https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2017/01/12/509451392/how-smart-are-horses

4. Bard S. Horses Recognize Pics of Their Keepers [Internet]. Scientific American. [cited 2022 Oct 24]. Available from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/horses-recognize-pics-of-their-keepers/#:~:text=The%20horses%20were%20then%20shown

Bryanna Tanase
Bryanna Tanase

Bryanna is a 23-year-old Florida-based Grade 1 Para-dressage rider based in Florida and she has been riding for 5 years. Horses are her passion and her ultimate goal is to be selected for the US Para-Equestrian Team and represent the US at the Paralympics. She rides at Quantum Leap Farm and Emerald M Therapeutic Riding Center and her equine partners are Shane, an American Paint Horse, and Cappy a Welsh x Thoroughbred. When she is not helping at the barn, riding, or training, she is learning about horses, writing articles about them, and using her social media platforms to raise awareness for therapeutic riding and para-equestrianism, shares her journey, and advocates for greater inclusion of para-equestrian in the media and equestrian sport at large.
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