The ability to count is an attribute that, beside humans, some animals do possess, although the capacity may vary from species to species. What do we mean by the ability to count? In general, the perception is counting means counting numbers. We already know that some animals have intelligence that are remarkable even though their level of intelligence do not come close to the level of human cognition.
Comprehending the difference in quantity between two sets of objects is the first step in determining whether the subject is capable counting or not; horses definitely demonstrate that capacity in many occasions.
The animals on our planet are categorized as “wild” and “domestic” depending on their habitat and relation to humans. Horses, like dogs, cats, cows, sheep etc. have a long history of living with humans.
We have befriended and, to some extent, dominated horses for centuries; it is not at all surprising then to find out that they are capable of counting. The question is: Does the capacity to count exist in horses as a basic instinct or they go through a learning process to be able to count? The answer is, both. The basic instinct is there at a subsistence level; however it could be improved through a learning process.
Tests on horses have proved that they have the capacity to count at a level that resembles the capacity of human infants. Scientists found out that horses could keep a tally of objects of the same variety that were put into two separate buckets. In a test administered with fake apples, (so that they are not influenced by the smell of real apples) 11 out of 13 horses opted for the higher quantity.
Dr. Claudia Uller and Jennifer Lewis from the University of Essex conducted a test on 57 untrained horses and found similar results. Horses have put their mark of intelligence on several aspects of interaction with humans. Of course, they are not capable of solving complex mathematical problems; nevertheless, their counting ability in terms of differentiating quantities of objects is an established truth.
The capacity to determine what is “more” and what is “less” is a fundamental tenet of counting, and horses have that capacity more than we think. Horses grow this ability in their natural habitat like many other animals that survive in the woods and jungles.
Food and shelter are the two basic requirements for their survival they constantly deal with. It is their counting ability that provides guidance for acquiring these fundamental elements of living.
Horses are not just domestic animals to us. They have befriended us centuries ago and have accepted our authority over them. As they continue to live with humans, they have become a part of our environment. Consequently, epistemological advances in human society have some kind of influence on horses that cannot be denied.
Whether their knowledge of counting derives from experience or from reason is a matter of scientific investigation. However, different experiments in the past and at present resulted in proving the fact that horses have the ability to count, not as much as we are capable of but at least as much as it is needed for survival within the environment they live in.