So those stories of horses being over cuddly when their owners are upset or refusing to come over to you when you’re grumpy aren’t just coincidence, after all. All of these show that horses learn via conditioning, and that through trial and error they can figure out the correct response to a question or situation.
Intrigued, I began keeping track of other recent research into equine intelligence, and what I learned about how smart horses may be been astonishing. Whereas just 15 years ago scientists were still questioning whether horses (and other mammals) even experience emotions, research now seems to indicate equines may in fact have some same cognitive abilities as we do, only at a different level.
Here, I’m going to share the latest research into equine cognition, including details of that compelling blanket-on/-off study. René Descartes, the 17th-century French philosopher, believed animals were mindless machines that could neither reason nor feel pain.
The work of the Russian Ivan Pavlov in the 19th century and American B. F. Skinner in the early 20th portrayed animals as merely reacting reflexively to their environment, or behaving only in response to positive or negative reinforcement. In fact, until only fairly recently, “anyone who ascribed an underlying emotion to an animal’s behavior was simply being anthropomorphic, projecting human feelings onto what were merely ‘dumb animals,’” observes Dr. Nicholas H. Rodman, a veterinary behaviorist writing in Veterinary Practice News online.
“The extreme behaviorist’s view that animals’ behavior is to be observed and measured but not interpreted prevailed through much of the last century.” In September 2003, Horsehide published a feature titled, “Do Horses Have Emotions?” Experts quoted in the piece argued the proposition both ways, with one even suggesting a mare’s distress at having her foal taken away could be just a stimulus response rather than proof of an emotional bond.
Current research seems to point in that direction, and toward a surprising range of cognitive abilities in general. • Touch-screen use: “A horse’s-eye view: size and shape discrimination compared with other mammals,” November 2015, Biology Letters.
In this 2016 study, Norwegian researchers trained 22 horses representing various breeds to understand symbols painted on white wooden boards. Then, under varying weather conditions, the horses were asked to select which action they wanted…and here’s where it got fascinating.
Use of the computer-monitor system will enable further looks into the mind of the horse that are free from potential human “interference,” offering results with the greatest possible validity. A 2016 study at the University of Sussex in England showed that horses can distinguish between smiling and frowning human faces.
Twenty-eight horses were shown large photographs of a man’s face expressing either a positive or negative emotion. The researchers also noted that horses themselves have many facial expressions that are similar to those of humans, which may’ve aided them in deciphering the emotions.
• “Can Horses Read Our Minds?,” with science writer Stephen Budiansky at The Thinking Rider blog. Evelyn Hang, MS, PhD, of the Equine Research Foundation in Autos, California (equine research.org), sums it up well.
Research to date has just grazed this subject and it will take many more studies to figure out what occurs within the thought processes of our equine partners,” she says. Before Helen Keller’s teacher found the key to unlocking two-way communication, the deaf and blind girl seemed barely more than a wild animal.
Dogs detect illness and lead the blind, and horses memorize difficult dressage patterns and can sense incoming weather. Understanding animal intelligence requires a deeper look into the linguistic, logical, social, and emotional capabilities of each species.
How do their behaviors affect their basic quality of life, and do they make decisions that can improve their living circumstances? By assessing these capabilities, we can start to compare our equine friends to our tail-wagging canine family members.
While most domestic dogs aren't responsible for finding their own meals, they're still considered predators in the hierarchy of the animal kingdom. It's a lot easier to munch on grass than it is to take down a rabbit, and behaviorists generally agree that predators have a kind of intelligence that prey animals lack.
As herd animals, horses are able to protect themselves from harm, and living within that tight-knit community also gives them a strong sense of emotional and social intelligence. They form relationships with other horses within the herd, and studies show those connections also extend to humans.
A horse named Clever Hans, for example, is revered as one of the smartest domestic animals of his time. It was once believed that Hans, an Orlon Trotter horse, could do complex math and word problems.
Hans responded by tapping his hoof eleven times and delivering the correct answer. Hans responded to a person's involuntary body language to give the correct answer every time.
When Hans was blindfolded or otherwise unable to see the person who asked, he would simply keep tapping his foot with no clues to give him the right answer. While Hans couldn't actually do math, he did show that horses have a kind of emotional intelligence that is seen in few other animal species.
Another facet of measuring animal intelligence is how quickly they can learn a new skill and remember that newfound knowledge. From the basic “sit” to more complex behaviors, we all know dogs are capable of learning countless skills.
How quickly a dog or horse learns is related more to the trainer's skill and not the individual animal's intelligence. While horses possess strong emotional intelligence and an intuition that's hard to beat, dogs learn new skills quickly and adapt well to life with humans.
Both animals are capable of impressive cognitive abilities, and evidence shows both horses and dogs have their strengths and weaknesses. But at the same time, a dog's abilities as a predator give them natural instincts that relate to overall intelligence.
I did some research on this topic and found lots of information to share with you. Their ability to be trained and to learn new skills has made them a much loved companion to their owners and trainers.
Horses have fantastic memories and a great sense of smell. These characteristics of the horse has helped them become a much loved and appreciated member of our modern world.
The horse is King and here are so many ways he benefits us as humans. Their training programs many times was pure brute force.
They devised ways that they could have the upper hand to force the horse to do what they wanted, like throwing them to the ground and showing the horse that man was the Boss. The first saddling and riding lessons were harsh and expected to be accomplished by the cowboy outlasting the horse.
One that brings joy and pleasure to millions of horse owners throughout the world. Some people say that a horse could be compared to the smartness of about a 10 or 12-year-old human.
There was an American horse I have heard of by the name of “Jim Key” who could actually perform some type of math & spelling. There have been lots of studies done by scientists to discover how horses learn and how their brains work.
Dogs and cats, for example, are predators and the size of their brain is smaller. A horse being a prey animal, which means they often had to flee for their life; behaves differently.
Their instincts to know when they must fight or flight is very well-developed. In fact a horse has been so well-developed that within an hour of birth a foal has the ability to run in case there is a need.
Owners who become frustrated because of the horses freaking out would call them dumb animals. Horses are easy to train because they have great memories.
Also, that works out well if the rider finds himself lost and does not know which direction to go. That has come in very handy in my life because I have gotten turned around and did not know which way to go more than once when I was out on the trail.
Horse owners have always wanted to give their animals human characteristics. It’s true horses can learn the meaning of a lot of words.
For the horses pulling wagons gee and haw told them whether to turn right or left. Not much more than those few other often repeated words is about as much as we can expect horses to comprehend.
There are many great stories told around the campfire of horses almost being able to read people’s minds. I have heard friends brag that their horse is the smartest because it can unlock the stable door or untie a knot or get into the hay barn.
It’s not like the horse really knew what he was doing, but being the mischievous and curious animal he is, his efforts to play around and fiddle with the lock rewarded him with the ability to get freedom. How easy he is to learn commands and how to perform them, through a process of positive and negative reinforcement with lots of repetition.
When a new rider buys or leases a horse that has more training and experience than he has, it could prove to be somewhat of a problem.