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Wednesday, January 11, 2012


If you haven't seen War Horse yet...why not? You will love it! If you watch the movie and find yourself saying "Yeah Right. A horse wouldn't do that." Think again. While the story is fictional, the horse, Joey depicts authentic horse behaviour. A study of 20 Anglo Arabs and 3 Saddlebreds in a stable in France showed some interesting things about a horse's intelligence. Three main conclusions were drawn.

1) Horses remember people who are kind to them even after a long separation,
2) Horses understand words better than expected and
3) Horses possess excellent memories.

Horses are willing to include humans in their "Herds," even as the leader. And they never Forget Human Friends. They are very forgiving but they never forget! In the study, one trainer used kind words and edible treats to train. Another did not. After an eight month separation, the horses gravitated to the kind trainer, licking and sniffing as they greeted her. This is how they greet their horse friends, and is a sign of affection, not just searching for food. The horses that were trained without food rewards were also four to six times more likely to display negative behaviors such as biting and kicking.

The research was led by Carol S. Ankey. She concluded that "Equid social relationships are long-lasting and in some cased lifelong." She found that, while we are accustomed to training dogs with verbal commands, most horse trainers use tactile sensations such as bit, leg and seat pressure. Yet, horses learn and memorize human words better than dogs. We can incorporate this into our training (and every time you ride a horse you are training for good or ill,) by using more words. Unfortunately, you can not speak when showing in dressage but you could certainly do more speaking during training.

Now, lets compare this to the movie: War Horse. First, the English boy who so loved Joey started training him with a whistle and a reward of treats when he came. It was this whistle, years later, that the horse remembered and enabled the boy and the horse to be reunited. Also depicted in the movie was a close friendship between Joey and the big, black Frisian. Both horses were captured by the German army but they stayed together and looked out for one another until the Frisian died.

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