We all are guilty of having those long conversations with our horses; we are horse people and look forward to it! Sometimes we even catch ourselves asking our horses questions and swear that they answer back or tell us what they want. Well, did you know that research suggests that our horses do try to communicate with us for something they want? Keep reading to find out more.
Referential heterospecific communication is the ability to communicate with someone about a specific object and a study conducted by Rachel Malvasi and Ludwig Huber showed how this is done in our horses.
For the study, Malvasi and Huber experimented on a group of 14 horses by putting them in a situation that required the horses to communicate. They placed two buckets full of tasty treats well within the sight of the horses, but out of reach near a human. The horses then did whatever they needed to tell their human that they wanted the bucket. Mostly, the horses searched for eye contact and would shift their gaze between the human and the bucket; as if they were pointing and saying, “Hey! I want that bucket.”
If the human was not directly facing the horse and eye contact was not an option, the horse would tap their human, shake or nod their heads, tap their hoof, and do what they could to grab their humans attention.
This leads to another important point that horses can problem solve. If they were unable to grab their human's attention, they would move on to whatever other strategies they could think of in order to get what they wanted, in this case, a reward of treats.
As quoted by Malavasi, “Our study demonstrated that horses can not only read us but can adopt strategies to convey our attention and actions to the desired outcome.”
An interesting fact about the study is that it was conducted at the School of Ethical Equitation. Here, horses are not in a controlled setting. Instead, horses are encouraged to be creative and given the chance to make choices. The human and the horse work together as a team.
However, if the human does not choose to communicate back to the horse or listen, the horse will eventually give up. This is also important for horse owners to understand. When we train horses, it is a one-way conversation. We ask of a specific response and if a horse does not submit to what is asked, they may be spurred or have a negative impact. This is why when training a horse it is important to give the horse options, a chance to think, and most importantly, listen when the horse is trying to communicate with you.
Horses are amazing creatures. Strong, beautiful and have proved time and time again that they are intelligent. We all have stories of our conversations with our horses. When has your horse told you exactly what they wanted? And, did you listen?