Thursday, May 19, 2011

Does Your Horse Recognize You?

Does Your Horse Recognize You?

A French study appears to confirm something that we probably already knew. That your horse does recognize you and expects certain behavior from you.

The research study took place at the Université de Rennes in Paimpont, France. Carol Sankey, MSc, PhD led the study.

The study involved 16 horses which Sankey and her fellow researchers raised from birth. The only time any of the study horses interacted with humans was at feeding time. And when all the horses reached age two, Sankey taught them to stand for 60 seconds after receiving the voice command “stand.”

After five days, each horse was competent in obeying the command. At this point, the researchers observed and recorded each horse’s behavior when Sankey gave the stand command and then gave the horse varying levels of attention such as standing in front of it and looking at it, turning her back on the horse, or closing her eyes while facing it. For the most part, the majority of the horses showed little interest in what Sankey was doing, that is, they did not watch her or move towards her. However, closing her eyes while facing the horses registered a reaction from more than half of the horses. Head movement and feet movement drastically increased when she did this, indicating that the horses noticed this.

Researchers concluded that the horses displayed this behavior because they had never seen Sankey do this before (close her eyes) so it wasn’t expected. Their lack of interest in her other actions was because they were familiar with that behavior from her in the past.

However, the horses reacted much differently when a stranger performed the same activities. All of the horses “monitored” him, turning their heads to watch or moving towards him.
What does this all mean?

The researchers believe that it means a horse does recognize a human and if that human is around the horse often, the horse comes to expect certain behavior from him. I believe these results also support why horses respond well to consistent training methods vs. erratic ones. If you’re a constant in your horse’s life and always treat him in a consistent manner, he accepts it as the norm and is okay with it. On the other hand, if you always change the way that you interact with your horse, he’s constantly surprised and confused.

Something to keep in mind next time you handle your horse.

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