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How Do Horses Request for Help from Humans? Japanese Researchers Have Some Answers!
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How Do Horses Request for Help from Humans? Japanese Researchers Have Some Answers!

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

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  1. jst4horses
    For those of us who have spent long hours just observing horses, they are so incredibly smart. While working at many show barns and training baby race horses my younger son and I observed that horses easily transfer from one language to another as they are brought in from many other countries to run in big barns, or perform in shows in America. Horses in the wild, or in large turn out pastures also when observed show an incredible ability to communicate. I had one alpha mare that was a significant help to me in quieting down show and racing horses that had had little or no horse training beyond being left in stalls, or in pastures with other weanlings, and the young race horses before being brought into the barns and trained by humans. My mare would spend one day with these misbehaving horses, and they would have a whole new attitude, and since she let us be the leader of the herd, they were quite happy to give up their antics and behave as members of the socialized herd, instead of rogue brats. This mare would make tiny ear and head signs and the other horses would stand back, even in other corrals, from their food until SHE had eaten hers, and asked them to bring pieces of their flakes of hay, and even drag their buckets or tubs over where she could reach through and take what she wanted. I was astounded when I found this out. Often while working night watch at huge barns horses would need something, and indeed they do find their own ways of asking the humans. One blood stock agent was sitting on a chair chatting to a friend when she noticed a young horse making strange moves with its head, sort of come of over here moves. She finally said, I have to check this out, and went on over, and sure enough, the horse had gotten a leg stuck in the hay feed rack and if it had exploded it might have hurt itself badly, instead it had patiently waited, motioning her to come on over. One morning while visiting a friend I noticed one of my usually antsy Arabians standing quietly, and not coming over for food. Then I realized he was making strange moves with HIS head. I went over and he had caught his shoe in the chain link, and as he had been taught since a colt, he had just stood there waiting for me to get his leg unstuck!!! And he had told me to come help him!!! I think people are arrogant to think animals are not smart, I have seen animals learn more than one language, fast, and I have seen way too many therapy animals that are much smarter than the therapists they work for.............to not think that animals, especially horses and dogs, are very alert and aware and able to communicate in our language since we do not do well in theirs.

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