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Can Horses be Depressed?

Since we can’t ask our horses to fill in questionnaires or conduct interviews about their feelings, we don’t know if horses experience depression as humans do. Some researchers have noted that as many as 24% of horses display a withdrawn posture characterized by a rigid stance, immobile ears, fixed gaze, apparent indifference to their environment, and reluctance to establish eye contact with humans or other horses. This certainly looks like one of the key symptoms of major depressive disorder in humans – anhedonia – which is the total loss of interest in formerly pleasurable activities – friends, hobbies, work … even food and sex. There is also evidence that horses may experience “learned helplessness” which occurs when horses (like other animals, including humans) face prolonged inescapable stress, and passively resign themselves to their dire circumstances even when the possibility of improving them has been introduced. Although learned helplessness is a…

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