When in trouble, horses ask humans for help

Washington D.C. [USA], Dec. 16 : A Japanese researcher team has found when horses face problems that they cannot solve, they use visual and tactile signals -- touching and pushing -- to get human attention and ask for help.

The findings, published in journal of Animal Cognition, suggest that horses alter their communicative behavior based on humans' knowledge of the situation.

Research fellow Monamie Ringhofer and Associate Professor Shinya Yamamoto from Kobe University's graduate school of intercultural studies explained the high social cognitive skills of horses towards humans might partially explain why humans and horses have a collaborative relationship today.

However, the scientific evidence for this ability is still scarce. In this study, scientists investigated horses' social cognitive skills with humans in a problem-solving situation where food was hidden in a place accessible only to humans, where eight horses from the club participated with the cooperation of their student caretakers.

In the first experiment, an assistant experimenter hid food (carrots) in a bucket which the horse could not reach.

The researchers observed whether and how the horse sent signals to the caretaker when the caretaker (unaware of the situation) arrived.

The horse stayed near the caretaker and looked at, touched and pushed the caretaker. The results showed that when horses cannot solve problems by themselves they send signals to humans both visually (looking) and physically (touching and pushing).

Building on these results, for the second experiment they tested whether the horses' behavior changed based on the caretakers' knowledge of the hidden food.

If the caretaker hadn't watched the food being hidden, the horses gave more signals, demonstrating that horses can change their behavior in response to the knowledge levels of humans.

These two experiments revealed some behaviors used by horses to communicate demands to humans. They also suggest that horses possess high cognitive skills that enable them to flexibly alter their behavior towards humans according to humans' knowledge state.

Source: ANI