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How smart is your horse?

This article is transferable.

Andrew McLean played a leading role in training horse owners around the world, in particular, he tried to convey how horses think. This article appeared in 1995, but is relevant to this day.

All animals eventually developed certain behavioral mechanisms that ensure their survival in a particular environment. People, for example, have hands with opposed thumbs, the ability to walk on two legs, and the brain, which is in many ways ahead of the brain of other animals, it is able to understand and reason. Understanding is the highest form of learning and can be defined as the ability to spontaneously connect unrelated information stored in memory to obtain a result or solve a problem.

Developing understanding allows us to anticipate, invent and invent ways to change the environment. For humans, this has always been the key to survival. After all, people have never been good hunters – relatively slow, without fangs, claws, and in order to survive, a person had to think, it was this that became a success for our species.

People are unique in their reasoning abilities, and the first mistake we can make when evaluating a horse’s intelligence is to think that they are not particularly smart people enclosed in a four-legged body. So – there is nothing further from the truth …

Horses are amazing creatures, perfectly adapted for survival, because by nature they are victims. They do not have discernment or anything remotely similar to this. Their brain works differently, and the main task is not to be eaten and to avoid it by flight.

That is why horses are so well adapted for running from birth. But you need to understand that the rapid flight does not require special mental processes. In this case, instincts are triggered – any unfamiliar sound, object or smell means one thing – to run. In addition, herbivores, unlike predators, do not need to think about how to get food.

This contrasts sharply with the thinking of predators who need a strategy and understanding, close communication within the pack for a successful hunt. Horses are herded for safety reasons.

This explains why dogs, bears, seals, whales (including dolphins) and primates are much more effective in training through food promotion (positive reinforcement) than through negative reinforcement, with which we train horses most often (encouraging mainly by reducing pressure).

Horses also tend to form repetitive patterns of behavior. The more often the horse repeats some action, the more durable neural connections are formed in the brain. The habit enters the brain and becomes more resistant to change. It is the formation of habits and quick reaction that helps horses survive.

Imagine that you are a horse and a predator attacks you, if you spend at least half a second thinking about running or not, it can cost you your life. That is why lightning reactions are characteristic of your brain.

Training leads to the acquisition and formation of new habits in horses that people need. When training a horse, an interesting fact must be taken into account: they are not able to connect events between which there is at least some period of time. What does this mean – if you punished the horse an hour after the manifestation of undesirable behavior, then, besides the fact that it is not very ethical, such training is ineffective and, as a rule, leads only to confusion.

Also, you do not need to punish the horse when the source of “bad behavior” is not in its field of vision. The comments “he knows what he did wrong” are fundamentally wrong …

When we say that one horse is “smarter” than the other, what do we really mean and what is intelligence? It is at this moment that understanding comes to mind how vague the question of intelligence is when it comes to horses. When people’s intelligence is measured, they’re basically testing their ability to reason.

Unlike us, horses do not have such abilities. The level of intelligence in horses comes down to the rate of association of events. So what we call the mind is actually learning. Then the following question arises: what is the ability to train and what are the characteristics of the trained horse?

Horses vary in their ability to learn. What makes one horse more trained than the other is related to how sensitive it is (reactive) and the degree of its reaction to stimuli (calm). An anxious jet horse will be less trained than a calm non-reactive horse. The ideal combination is a reactive horse that responds adequately to external stimuli.

Thanks to the selection, people managed to bring horses that are highly trained and are able to partially suppress the instinct to flee. Such horses are called half-blood.

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