Non-horsey people always seem to think that horses are not intelligent. The definition of intelligence is 'the ability to learn facts and skills and apply them' .... so do horses do this?
Horses are able to learn about their environment, they have good senses and good memories to remember the information they learn - often for many years. This allows them to remember plants which are poisonous, prickly or taste bad and avoid them.
In the wild, if prey animals (such as horses) make a mistake they are likely to be killed by predators. They learn quickly (and remember for many years ) to fear certain situations, environments etcetera. This ability to remember and interpret means that a bad experience when they have suffered pain or fear will also be remembered for years. This keeps them alive in the wild but can be difficult in a domestic situation when they suddenly behave totally out of character when confronted with a certain situation, person, smell etc. The uneducated will think the horse is just being stupid, when really they are just recalling a bad experience from the past.
Horses are intelligent enough to figure out how to open bolts, use door handles, untie leadropes etc - all with their lips. They learn that if they open the door they can get out and be closer to their friends, or reach some new grass or hay - they have learnt this fact, and the skill to apply it!
Have a look at YouTube for a video of this clever horse unlocking several stable doors!
Some horses dunk their dry hay in the water bucket to make it wet. Some learn to go under electric fence (Chesney) to reach better grass. They learn routines, recognise voices and smells. Horses learn body signals and voice commands and remember them for future use.
There have been tests to analyse horses abilities. It was found that they can tell the difference between patterns (the test horses were only given a treat for one type of pattern) and they quickly learnt to react to the correct pattern.
More proof of the intelligence of horses comes from a horse called 'Clever Hans' who seemingly could count. Hans was an Arab stallion who, according to his trainer, von Osten, could count. He would amaze the crowds in 1890's Germany by tapping his foot 6 times if von Osten asked him 2 x 3. He was also able to answer other questions by tapping his foot. However, tests discovered that Hans was not good at sums but could pick up the tiniest of reactions and mood changes of his questioner.
By initially replacing von Osten with another questioner it was established the trainer was not consciously giving Hans clues to the answer, as he continued to get it right. However, if the questioner did not know the answer Hans just continued tapping his foot - thus showing that Hans was interpreting the questioners body language to know when to stop tapping his foot (therefore appearing to have the right answer). Even when the questioner knew Hans was sensing their reactions he still got the answer right because of their unconscious communication.
So, why do horses let us ride them? Is it because of their natural herd behaviour, which means that they are happy to be told what to do by another horse or person? Or are they intelligent enough to understand that by allowing themselves to be ridden they will be provided with food and water and safety!
Did you see last week's video 'Tommy's rug practise' on my You Tube channel.
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Until next time!