This Is How Horses Try to Communicate With You
Recent studies show just how clever horses are in getting you to pay attention to what they want.
The thoroughbred watched with interest as a handler placed two buckets just out of reach. Then the handler put a carrot into one of the buckets, covered it, and walked away. Try as he might, he couldn't reach that bucket. It was just too far away. Then another handler arrived on the scene, her nose buried in a book. Well, it was plain what he needed to do. He needed to get that handler to give him the carrot. After all, she was standing right next to those buckets. So he stared at her and nudged her until he got her attention—and the carrot.
He wasn't the only one. The thoroughbred was one of eight horses from the Kobe University Equestrian Club who took part in the two-stage study led by equine researchers Dr. Monamie Ringhofer and fellow researcher Dr. Shinya Yamamoto. The first stage of the study involved the procedure described above, where the handler didn't see and couldn't know that a carrot had been placed in one of the buckets. In the second, the handler watched as the other handler placed the carrot in one of the buckets. The researchers found that the horses were much more active about looking and touching the caretaker in the first part of the experiment, when the caretaker didn’t know about the carrot. You can see one of the horses nudging the handler in the photo above.
This may not seem like a big deal, but it is. Understanding the connection between knowing and seeing is a very sophisticated cognitive ability. So is the ability to understand that another individual doesn't necessarily know what you know. Using that knowledge to get another individual to do what you want is like winning a brainy trifecta. Human infants don't start to show a rudimentary understanding of these things until about the end of the first year of life. What children can do with the assistance of others is often considered more indicative of their mental development than what they can do alone.
The study was published in the May 2017 issue of the science journal Animal Cognition.
So what is your horse trying to tell you? Here are some more article on human-horse communication, along with books and videos on the topic that I highly recommend. Dive into these and you'll see your horse in a completely different light.
Horses Can Read Human Facial Expressions--So What is Your Face Saying?
Are You Unintentionally Scaring Your Horse?
Who Is The Leader of the Horse Herd--The Stallion or the Mare?
Copyright Denise Cummins, PhD May 17, 2018
The Thinking Equestrian