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HORSES ASK HUMANS FOR HELP
Japanese researchers have investigated whether horses try to communicate with humans when faced with a problem and found that they ask us for help.
Eight horses and their student caretakers at Kobe University took part in a clever experiment looking at how horses communicate with their handlers.
For the first part of the study, a researcher put a carrot in a bucket while a horse watched from a distance. The bucket was out of the horse’s reach on the other side of their paddock fence. The horse’s caretaker was not present to see this happen, so when they then arrived back soon afterwards to join the horse, the horse had the opportunity to know the caretaker wasn’t aware of the hidden carrot.
For the second part of the experiment, the caretaker stayed next to the paddock when the assistant came and repeated the carrot hiding process. In this case, the caretaker could have seen that the carrot was placed in the bucket and the horse may have been aware of this.
The researchers observed the horses behaviour to see whether they tried to communicate with their caretakers and how they did this.
In both parts of the experiment, the horses did try to communicate with their human. Each horse stayed close to their caretaker and looked at, touched and pushed them.
However, If the caretaker hadn’t been present when the food was hidden, the horses gave more signals – performing the looking, touching and pushing behaviours more actively and for much longer than when the caretaker was not present for the carrot hiding.
These results are fascinating, they show that when horses can’t solve problems on their own they may try and communicate with humans visually – by looking, and physically – by touching and pushing.
The results also show that horses may change their behaviour in response to the knowledge levels of humans. This could suggest that horses possess high cognitive skills and great awareness and sensitivity of what we see and do and that they will then alter their behaviour accordingly.
How many of us listen to our horses and notice when they are trying to communicate with us?
You can read the study in full here: Ringhofer, M., Yamamoto, S. Domestic horses send signals to humans when they face an unsolvable task.