HORSES ASK HUMANS FOR HELP

Horses ask humans for help

Japanese researchers have investigated whether horses will communicate with humans during a problem solving task and found 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 was aware the caretaker didn't know about 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. This way the caretaker could see that the carrot was placed in the bucket and the horse had the opportunity to know their caretaker was aware of the situation.

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 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 watched the food being hidden, the horses gave more signals – performing the looking, touching and pushing behaviours more actively and for much longer than when they knew they had seen the carrot being hidden. 

These results are fascinating – they do show that when horses can't solve problems on their own they will 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 suggests that horses possess high cognitive skills and a great awareness and sensitivity of what we see and do, and that they will then alter their behaviour accordingly. 

You can read the study here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10071-016-1056-4