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Equine Science Sundays: How Do You Talk to Your Horse?

A study published in 2022 (Jardat et al) investigated the effect of speaking to horses in different speech patterns - adult-directed speech (ADS; ie normal conversational tone) vs pet- or child- directed speech (PDS; ie using higher, slower, wider pitch range with repeated use of simple words). Speech directed at children tends to be a more emotional communication style and evokes better response in children than ADS. It’s already been established that horses have strong social cognitive skills, but less research has focused on speech types!

In this study, horses watched short videos of a woman saying the same sentence multiple times in the specific speech pattern, and their behavioral responses and heart rates were recorded. 


  • Horses spent more time being attentive to the video when the PDS was used, while heart rate increased with PDS while decreased during ADS. 

  • However, there were no differences in showing either positive or negative emotional state behaviour cues (posture, whites of eyes, etc), so it cannot be concluded whether the PDS elicited a positive emotional reaction or was just more arousing stimulus than the ADS. 

  • Either way, the PDS seemed to pique the horses’ interest more than the ADS. 

However, since the same sentence was used for both, the content of the communication was the same and only the tone was different, so it would be interesting to see how differences in word choice may also impact these results!

An earlier study (Lansade et al, 2021) looked at how PDS vs ADS speech impacted behaviour during both a grooming session and a “pointing task”, where the handler would point to where the horse could find a food reward with their finger while speaking to them. During the grooming session, the handler scratched the horse’s wither while speaking in the particular speech type, and the horse’s behaviour responses were recorded. During the pointing task, a handler pointed to where a food reward was, and spoke to the horse in the particular speech type.


  • Grooming task: The horses who were spoken to with the PDS spent more time looking at the handler and moved less, and participated in allogrooming more than when spoken to with ADS.

  • Pointing task: Horses who were spoken to with the PDS had a significantly higher success rate in locating the food reward.

When living with and handling other species, it’s important to know how our behaviour and actions could impact them. These findings suggest that horses are sensitive to differences in speech patterns, and may benefit from use of this speech pattern in their daily lives!



Landsaid, L., Trosch, M., Parias, C., Blanchard, A., Corosurreta, E., Calandreau, L. 2021. Horses are sensitive to baby talk: pet-directed speech facilitates communication with humans in a pointing task and during grooming. Animal Cognition 24(2021): 999-1006. DOI:

Jardat, P., Calandreau, L., Ferreira, V., Gouyet, C., Parias, C., Reigner, F., Lansade, L. 2022. Pet-directed speech improves horses’ attention toward humans. Scientific Reports 12: 4297. DOI:


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