If you have ever studied Monty Roberts Join-Up then the following research might not come as a surprise, but it's always good to have these things confirmed by a creditable study! Psychology researchers at The University of Sussex found that horses can tell the difference between dominant and submissive body postures in humans and much prefer to approach people who appear submissive.
A submissive body posture is one where we slouch, keeping arms close to our bodies and legs close together with knees softly bent - basically taking up as little space as possible. In a dominant stance on the other hand, we stand up tall, chest out, with arms away from our bodies and legs apart, therefore taking up more space - on the train or bus this is often know as 'Manspreading'!
The researchers worked with 30 domestic horses and used female handlers dressed in similar clothing including a neck warmer which covered their faces up to their eyes so that their facial expressions couldn't provide any cues. Each handler also gave every horse a food reward whilst standing in a neutral position to begin with. Then during the trial two handlers, one in a dominant stance and the other in a submissive one, stood with their backs against a neutral background, about five-six feet apart. Each demonstrator also got to act dominant as well as passive in different tests.
This research revealed that the horses were much more likely to approach the person displaying a submissive posture.