Sunday, October 03, 2010

Horses Never Forget Human Friends

What most of us already know, but it's nice to see confirming research being done and published:

I have said for years that Keil Bay understands almost everything I say to him. He's absolutely a verbal learner and responds far more quickly to words than to cues, especially the natural horsemanship cues, which he thinks are primitive and beneath him.

Nice article, but would someone please tell me what the heck is in the mouth of the horse in the photo? Not a very nice thing to do to a good friend, imo. :/


Grey Horse Matters said...

Not sure but it looks like the strap in this horses mouth may be a lead rope of some kind.Not crazy about how it's making this horses mouth and expression look.

Of course horses remember people and whether they had a good experience or bad with that person. Years ago my horse Erik was trained by a sort of rough guy (when I didn't know any better, no excuse, just the truth), anyway after a few years we had had enough and left for another barn. Erik was in his stall after turnout, this former trainer came by and saw him and poked his head in the stall to say hello and Erik pinned his ears and sort of lunged at him a bit. Not viciously just enough to let him know to leave. He was the sweetest horse and never once had done that to anyone before. He never did it again either, just the once. So definitely they do remember good or bad experiences.

Valentino said...

Agreed - that's a weird photo choice for an article about friendship.

It is an interesting paradox that horses live in the moment yet remember friends (and not friends) That type of balance doesn't come easy to me. Another good lesson to learn from our horses :)

billie said...

Arlene, I love the story about Erik and am glad to hear he got a chance to show his feelings toward the rough trainer.

billie said...

V, I have always been curious about the whole "horses live in the moment" thing.

On one hand, yes, they do, but on the other, I've never really been around a horse who doesn't exhibit behavior indicative of memory and the ability to differentiate between "then" and "now" and "in the future."

Every time a horse waits at a gate to come in (or go out) or nickers for a meal, they are showing us they live in the past, present, and future.

I think a lot of training issues are easily resolved if we simply give the horse credit for his/her intelligence - even that part we as humans don't understand very well.


jme said...

my horses are also very attuned to voice; all appear to know their names, voice commands and corrections, words for food, turnout, and an assortment of other expressions that make me think they understand a lot more language than we give them credit for! but then i'm convinced my dog also speaks english... she responds to entire sentences!

i'm also encouraged to read that food rewards rated highly, as they are something i use alongside other positive reinforcements, even though i have had all sorts of comments about 'spoiling' them, teaching them 'bad manners', etc. it works for us, so we go with it.

that is a bad photo considering the subject of the article - my guess is it was selected by someone who had nothing to do with researching it! i guess a cotton rope is a milder form of lip chain, but still not something i'd advertise! you see lip chains at the track and occasionally around show grounds on 'unmanageable' horses - the chain portion of the shank is passed under the lip and over the gums so when pressure is applied... well you can imagine the rest. i've never used one, but it's one of the most severe forms of restraint i've seen.

billie said...

Keil Bay heard the chiro ask me if he ever pushed his butt to the wall - she says that's a common thing horses do if they need adjustment, particularly for pelvic rotation.

He had never done that, but the next month when her truck drove up, and it wasn't his turn for chiro, he came into his stall and proceeded to shove his big butt against the stall boards, harder and harder, until I realized what he was doing. When I pointed this out and then asked if he was trying to tell me he needed adjusting, he came to the stall door and waited. Needless to say, he got his adjustment. :)

I have read elsewhere recently that food rewards are the most effective training aid for horses. I see no reason not to utilize something that works well and makes them happy. Keil will do almost anything for a single alfalfa pellet.

Dougie Donk said...

I'm currently hoping that horses DO understand complex sentences, as Flynn got a severe telling off for wrecking yet another of Dougie Donk's rugs.

He thinks it's a grand game to pick him up by the neck cover & let him dangle for a few seconds!

I am not amused at the weekly repair bills. Fingers crossed that he understood me :)

billie said...

Yikes! Poor Dougie! (or does he like it?)

Unfortunately just because they understand doesn't necessarily mean they will do what you're asking!

Valentino said...


I wonder if the trick is not holding on to memories / the past, preventing us from being in the moment...

I think that is where horses / non human animals may have us beat - despite our "higher intelligence" :)

billie said...

Absolutely, although I do think horses can hang onto things just as we do - especially if traumatized.

I've found that working with horses and working with clients with mild PTSD is very similar. The hypervigilance and other coping mechanisms used by PTSD clients if very similar to the typical herd behavior of prey animals.

Although my perspective is skewed somewhat by having experienced and worked with trauma most of my career, it does seem true to me on a near-daily basis that horses and people are not really all that different!

Máire said...

A lovely article, with an unfortunate photo. A nice reminder about positive reinforcement, we so often use pressure-release instead. I know exactly what you mean about Keil Bay understanding everything you say. Rosie does too. (Ben is learning!)

I agree with what you say about trauma. I work with a lot of traumatised children and I see similarities.

billie said...

Maire, I would say Ben is racing along in his education!

ponymaid said...

Billie, the woman says I can speak perfectly well but am clever enough not to because she would force me to get a job. I know enough to remain silent on the subject and content myself with looking mysterious.

billie said...

Sheaffer, very smart thinking, I must say. While the world at large could use some donkey leaders, I doubt the donkeys would get much from entering the world of humans in that way.