This report appears at a number of places on the internet, identically quoted. EoR isn't sure if there's an original source that everyone is copying from or whether it's a press release by the researcher herself (the same document at Alliant International University is presumably the original).
Horse Heart Coherence May Be Key To Non-invasive Stress Detection
A horse's heart rhythms reflect their emotional state and can respond to the emotional state of a nearby human, according to a pilot study conducted by Alliant International University Professor Ellen Gehrke and the Institute of HeartMath. When in contact, a horse's heart rate may mirror a human's emotions, signifying a close unspoken form of communication between man and beast. The horse as emotion detector may be the key to eliminating invasive procedures such as those that measure cortisol, a stress hormone. Horses have long been known to be sensitive to their environments. The preliminary research project "Horses and Humans Energetics: The study of Heart Rate Variability (HRV) between horses and Humans" is the first step to proving horses to be as equally sensitive to the humans within that environment. [...] The study took place at Dr. Gehrke's San Diego ranch where ECG recorders were placed on her and four of her horses. The subjects were monitored during a 24-hour period in which the horses experienced normal conditions and activities such as eating, grooming, being alone, and being ridden and accompanied by Dr. Gehrke. The ECG recorders projected increased coherent heart rate variability (HRV) patterns for the horses during times of close, calm contact between them and Dr. Gehrke. Coherent HRV patterns are the result of positive emotions and facilitate brain function. [...] As a professor at the Business Management Division of Alliant's Marshall Goldsmith School of Management, Dr. Gehrke often brings students to her horse ranch for human development, leadership and team-building.
There are a few things up front that worry EoR about this study. Any study that refers to "energetics" (and isn't a physics paper) is already a warning sign of alternative thinking. There was no control. There was only one (human) subject who already has preformed ideas about the outcomes. The human subject was also the author of the study. Dr Gehrke has qualifications in Natural Resource Management, Marketing, and Organizational Development. EoR doesn't see anything there about biology, medical science, or veterinary science.
Furthermore, Dr Gehrke also runs Rolling Horse Ranch, a commercial venture which is:
committed to assisting people and organizations generate and sustain exceptional levels of energy, passion, inner strength and commitment.
In partnership with horses, programs and services are designed to:
- improve the ability to think and focus on real problems and solutions in life
- enhance communication skills so there is more clarity and coherence
- help individuals discover the core of their leadership presence
- identify those areas in life where one feels more energetic and passion about work and self
- help reduce reactive responses to stress and stressful situations
- work more productively with more care and appreciation in teams and human systems
The claim in the press report that Dr Gehrke "often brings students to her horse ranch for human development" is certainly disingenuous, to say the least. Amongst the workshops on offer, you can "Build Coherence In Your Life":
Deep, personal and heartfelt work describes this workshop. You will work at recognizing stress points in your life, how you respond to them and then making choices to manage your perceptions and reactions to stress so that you feel more balanced and in control within your heart as the source of your intuition and your mind as the guide to sound decisions. The horses partner with individuals to offer insight as to how to recognize and build a coherent intelligence.
If that doesn't sound sufficiently newage and touchy-feely to you (as opposed to statements based on science and evidence), consider the FAQ:
At RHR, we are committed to changing the leadership and organizational environments by respecting our partnerships with horses. A great deal of time and energy goes into honoring and engaging the RHR horses as cofacilitators - sentient beings who have much to offer in learning and awareness.
Or the About Us page:
[Horses] have an uncanny ability to accurately sense energetically your level of trust, confidence, awareness, and interpersonal skills.
There's nothing "energetic" about it. Horses rely on a remarkable ability to use and respond to subtle signals (body language). Dr Gehrke would do better researching Clever Hans, the amazing psychic horse who wasn't.
The only information EoR could find on "coherent heart rate" were a plethora of copies of the original story quoted above, and sites like Heartmath, which Dr Gehrke is also associated with, or sites like the woo-filled Heart Coherence team:
Life-force universally flows where attention is focussed, and vice versa. But either of the two is unstable all by itself. Wellness is created only when emotion and action are harmonically inclusive and coherent. This will turn them from opposed and blindly attractive or dissipative, into mutually stabilizing, uplifting and empowering.
Is that clear, then?
So, do horses somehow magically affect human heart rates? Or is it more likely that a horse will be calmer around a calm human and, hence, have a lower heart rate (and vice versa: if the horse is calm, the human is more likely to be calm)?