During your regular interactions with your horse, have you ever felt that he’s silently communicating something to you? Behavioral scientists in Japan have revealed how equine behavior changes when horses are seeking assistance from their handlers.
The results of the study they carried out were published in the November edition of the journal Animal Cognition.
The researchers enlisted the use of eight horses derived from the equestrian club at Japan’s Kobe University and conducted an experiment to determine how horses would go about solving a problem that needed the input of their human handlers.
Details of the steps taken in conducting this experiment were published on Sciencedaily.com. First, a bucket of carrots was placed at a location unreachable to the horses. When a caretaker arrived nearby, it was observed that the horses behaved in a particular way that could be interpreted as requesting for assistance. For instance, they would stand near the caretaker, look at him, touch him and/or even push him.
Horses with a bucket of carrots nearby displayed these behavioral changes more frequently than those in a control group with no carrots provided for them.
The second part of the experiment involved researchers investigating differences in the way equines interacted with their handlers who were present during the first phase of hiding carrots compared to those caretakers who weren't available. It was observed that the frequency of signals sent increased with the new set of caretakers, suggesting that the horses did judge the situation depending on how much they thought their handler knew, adapting their behavior accordingly.
Due to the small size of the sample, findings here should be considered preliminary, meaning that other follow-up surveys are required to gain a better understanding of equine cognitive capabilities, as well as their communication mechanisms with humans. Genetically and logically, however, it should be expected that horses should possess some ability and willingness to at least try to communicate with human beings. Otherwise, the domestication process wouldn't have been possible the way we know it happened.
All in all, whatever the origin of your horse's willingness to communicate to you is, this study reminds us why we should be vigilant so as to look out for the signals that your horse may be sending to you -- and listen!
Image source: flickr.com