Swedish research has scientifically demonstrated that an increase in a rider’s heart rate can lead to an increase in their horse’s heart rate.

This confirms what horse people have long suspected — that a lack of rider confidence can worry a horse.

A team from the Department of Animal Environment and Health at the University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala, published their findings in the July 2009 edition of The Veterinary Journal.

The horses tested were of various ages, breeds and sexes, and the handlers from varying equestrian backgrounds.

Each participant was asked to ride or lead their horse between two set points. On the fourth and final time, they were told that an assistant would open an umbrella as the combination passed. In reality, the umbrella was not opened.

The horse had no idea that an umbrella might open so the researchers knew any change in the horse’s heart rate would be down to the change in the person’s, resulting from the anticipation of the umbrella being opened.

The horses’ heart rates increased as the humans’ did when the horses were both ridden and led, suggesting the horses could sense the change even when the only human contact was through a lead rein.

H&H vet Karen Coumbe said: “This shows how sensitive horses can be to human responses and be very aware of people’s moods.”