Tag Archives: horse and rider

Science: When Horses Are in Trouble They Ask Humans for Help, Finds New Study

Research Fellow Monamie Ringhofer and Associate Professor Shinya Yamamoto (Kobe University Graduate School of Intercultural Studies) have proved that when horses face unsolvable problems they use visual and tactile signals to get human attention and ask for help.

The study also suggests that horses alter their communicative behavior based on humans’ knowledge of the situation. These findings were published in the online version of Animal Cognition on November 24.

Communicating with other individuals in order to get information about foraging sites and predators is a valuable survival skill. Chimpanzees, who are evolutionarily close to humans, are especially skilled at understanding others. Studies suggest that chimpanzees distinguish the attentional states of other individuals (seeing or not seeing), and they are also able to understand others’ knowledge states (knowing or not knowing).

Some domestic animals are also very good at communicating with humans—recent studies of dogs have revealed that they are excellent at understanding various human gestures and expressions. It is thought that these abilities were influenced by the domestication process. 

Since they were domesticated 6000 years ago, horses have contributed to human society in various shapes and forms, from transport to companionship. Horse-riding has recently drawn attention for its positive effects on our physical and mental health. 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. The experiment was carried out in a paddock belonging to the equestrian club at Kobe University, where eight horses from the club participated with the cooperation of their student caretakers.

For the first experiment, an assistant experimenter hid food (carrots) in a bucket that 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. These behaviors occurred over a significantly longer period compared to cases when they carried out the experiment without hiding the food.

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. This high social cognitive ability may have been acquired during the domestication process.

In order to identify the characteristic that enables horses to form close bonds with humans, in future research the team aims to compare communication between horses, as well as looking more closely at the social cognitive ability of horses in their communication with humans.

By deepening our understanding of the cognitive abilities held by species who have close relationships with humans, and making comparisons with the cognitive abilities of species such as primates who are evolutionarily close to humans, we can investigate the development of unique communication traits in domesticated animals.

This is connected to the influence of domestication on the cognitive ability of animals, and can potentially provide valuable information for realizing stronger bonds between humans and animals.

Photos provided by Monamie Ringhofer.
Photos provided by Monamie Ringhofer.

Figure 1. Horse making demands: The horse a) lightly pushes and b) looks at the caretaker standing outside the paddock. Food is hidden inside one of the two silver buckets behind them. When horses cannot obtain this food by themselves, they give humans visual and tactile signals.

Photo provided by Monamie Ringhofer.

Photo provided by Monamie Ringhofer.

Figure 2. Horse with caretaker at the equestrian club

“I Guess I’ll Eat Some Worms…”

It was time for me to deworm my guys and I misplaced my “schedule”, so I decided to go online and print one.  Bad idea!  There are so many deworming schedules out there…it is easy to get overwhelmed.

I found a deworming  quiz that was incredibly helpful when deciding what schedule and dewormers are right for my horse.  The quiz  & the below information was written by Karen Hayes (an Idaho-based equine practitioner) and was published in the June 1999 issue of Horse & Rider magazine. –

See more at: http://www.equisearch.com/artic/eqdeworm321#sthash.7cTzzRGc.dpuf

QUIZ: Now see how you score on the following eight questions to determine which program is right for your horse.
1. Does your horse graze on pasture all year, increasing his chances of exposure to parasite larvae? (Yes=2. No=0.)
2. Do other horses, on different or unknown deworming programs, graze on the same pasture, increasing your horse’s chances of ingesting parasite larvae? (Yes=3. No=0.) – See more at: http://www.equisearch.com/article/eqdeworm321#sthash.7cTzzRGc.dpuf
3. Does your horse nibble grass at other stables or public horse facilities-such as show grounds, fairgrounds, campgrounds, and/or highway rest stops-increasing his chances of ingesting parasite larvae? (Yes=5. No=0.)
4. Has your horse ever shown signs of heavy worm infestation? (Symptoms include a poor haircoat, weight loss, recurrent colic, or sloppy manure; or a fecal egg count of more than 100 eggs per gram.) (Yes=4. No=0.)
5. Is the collected manure at your horse’s facility spread on the pasture as fertilizer, increasing the chance of parasite larvae in his grazing pastures? (Yes=3. No=0.)
6. Is “dropped” manure in your horse’s grazing areas spread out with a harrow at least once a year? (Yes=3. No=0.)
7. Do you have a hard time keeping track of which dewormers can be used in a rotation program-possibly disrupting a purge program?(Yes=2. No=0.)
8. Do you delay scheduling your horse’s regular-care appointments, such as farriery, dentistry, vaccinations, and deworming? (Yes=3. No=0.)
Here’s what your total score means:
0-8: Your horse’s management and general condition are good enough that a well-timed purge program probably is adequate. It’ll minimize parasite eggs in his manure, and his risk of internal damage from worm larvae picked up in the environment is probably minimal. (Exception: If you answered “yes” to questions 3, 4, and/or 5, risk of damage increases; consider a daily dewormer.)
8-15: You’re in a gray area. Although a well-timed purge program will minimize worm eggs in your horse’s manure, other factors- such as a high concentration of parasite larvae in his environment- may expose him to internal damage.
15-25: Your horse is exposed to high levels of parasite eggs and larvae in his environment. Use a daily dewormer to protect him from internal damage caused by larvae migration. – See more at: http://www.equisearch.com/article/eqdeworm321#sthash.7cTzzRGc.dpuf
Target Troublemakers
Whether you choose purge or daily deworming, you won’t kill some dangerous parasites unless you take additional steps. These troublemakers are bots, tapeworms, and encysted cyathostomes (one of the most destructive immature forms of small strongyles).

Here’s a general program to fight these parasites, but check with your vet to develop a program right for your horse and your particular area.

Bots. Ivermectin and moxidectin are the only available products effective against bots. In a purge deworming program, you can kill two birds with one stone by using one of these products on your regular late-fall and spring treatment dates. Time of year is critical, because fall’s’ first frost kills bot flies, giving you a leg up on reducing their population-especially if you follow up in the spring. Here’s what to do: After first frost, remove/kill any remaining bot eggs or larvae on your horse’s legs with a bot block or knife. Then use a purge dewormer to get rid of adult bots in his system. In spring, remove/kill any external eggs or larvae you may’ve missed in the fall, and deworm him again to zap any adult bots in his stomach before they lay eggs. Then you’ll start bot season (spring through early fall) with a clean slate.

If your horse is on a daily program, give him a dose of ivermectin or moxidectin in early spring and again in late fall, in addition to the daily dewormer.

Tapeworms. Some investigators believe daily deworming effectively controls tapeworms, but the evidence is conflicting. As an extra measure, you have three options:

1) give pyrantel pamoate (Strongid P or T), at twice the usual dose, 2 days in a row;
2) give pyrantel tartrate (daily dewormer), at 10 times the usual daily dose, 2 days in a row; or
3) use of the canine tapeworm medication prazi-quantel (Droncit), which your vet can prescribe for oral use in your horse (about $45 a dose).

You can use options one or two to replace your horse’s regular deworming treatments in spring and fall. Give Droncit in addition to the regular deworming treatment, but on a different day, to avoid possible drug interactions.

Encysted cyathostomes. Prevent encysted cyathostomes by putting your horse on a daily deworming program, or kill them by:

1) using moxidectin as a spring and/or fall treatment in your purge deworming program; or
2) replacing a regular spring and/or fall purge treatment with fenbendazole at twice the usual dose, for five days in a row.

Daily verses Purge Programs

For daily programs, it’s critical that your horse gets his daily dose daily, as missed doses will decrease the levels of dewormer in his system, rendering it less effective- See more at: http://www.equisearch.com/article/eqdeworm321#sthash.7cTzzRGc.dp

For purge programs, timing is key. If you treat too early, targeted worms will be too immature to be affected by the dewormer. If you treat too late, adult worms will have the opportunity to produce eggs, infesting your horse’s environment and raising his (and other horses’) risk of exposure.

I hope the information was as helpful for you as it has been for me.  For more information on worming and a  comparison of the products available click the link below.

PHHWV Equi Info Note – Equine Worming.