Tag Archives: horse communicator

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

Eyes Wide Shut

I had the opportunity to work with a “horse communicator” today.  She was recommended to me by an equine vet who, after reading my blog, felt that I would be open to the idea, and introduced me to her via email.  According to the vet, she often works with this particular equine communicator due to her ability to point out exactly where the horse’s issues are, allowing the vet to adjust/manipulate/treat the main issue.

I chatted with her at length a few days ago as she explained the process and we scheduled an appointment.

Today I gave her a call, as she explained, connecting remotely allows for the horse to be in his natural setting without the influence of an unknown person.  That way the horse could be relaxed and the owner can observe, ask questions, and engage.  So, that is what I did.  She went onto explain that sometimes the horse needs energy work in order to open up to the process and that the horse must trust the process, her, and obviously, the owner.

I was asked to have questions ready to ask my horse, along with something I would like to tell him at the end of the session.  (If you have been following this blog then you will know I had some difficulty narrowing down a couple of questions- I have a lot! 😉 ) She began connecting with Chance.

I will not be able to convey all the details of what was said, Chance’s reactions, or even mine…It is almost a blur… I wish I could.

I was asked to feel around Chance’s right forehead/eye area for a lump or bump.  I did as I was asked and didn’t feel anything abnormal…but remembered he had a gash that was healing right above his right eye.  She informed me that he had a “headache”.  She continued to move over him and explained that his “energy” was “blocked” on his right side.  This makes sense…Chance has a “swagger” at the walk- he pokes his butt to the side and has a twist on the back right leg (Chance’s swagger has gone up and down- it was worse when he had the tendon issues, resolved after stem cell injections, came back when he got EPM, went away ish, and came back with his Lyme).  While she was working on his energy, I massaged Chance’s back, neck, hip, and shoulders.  She went on to explain that Chance had some right shoulder pain. Thankfully, Chance allowed her to work on his jaw (he pretty much has TMJ), his head, his back, etc.  The energy was “pouring out” even on the hind end which, if I recall correctly, is commonly seen on horses with head injuries.

This is where my one question came in…I wanted to know what happened to Chance when he came to my college.  I didn’t give many details…I didn’t know many details but I always wondered what may have happened on Chance’s trip down to my college.

I had gone off to college in January and decided to have someone trailer Chance down (about 3 and a 1/2 hours) once I got settled and found a barn, etc.  Two months later Chance was arrived at her new barn.  Despite the cool March weather, he was covered in sweat and was visibly scared.  I didn’t inquire too much since he was in one piece and I chalked up the sweating and fear to exactly that- fear and anxiety.  However, as the months progressed, Chance began bucking and rearing while under saddle….this was really strange..When he had left home we were doing dressage and jumping and he was sound and calm.  Once again, I chalked it up to being in a new place- a barn that hosted Friday night Bullbucking no less.  I decided to switch to a different farm, one preferably without bulls, even though the show was awesome to go and see, and work with a trainer.  Still the behaviors persisted and the episodes of lameness increased.  The vet finally diagnosed Chance with arthritic changes in his back and suggested I no longer jump him.  I decided that summer instead of bringing Chance home and have him endure another long trailer ride, to board him at my new vet’s farm. Chance had the summer to recuperate while under the care of an equine vet.

Anyways, after that summer, I decided to retire Chance for good.  I would occasionally get home him to walk around, I still can and do today.  But, that was the beginning of a chronic condition that was never given a diagnosis.  Instead, Chance’s symptoms were treated as they came.  

Back to my session with my very own horse whisperer..

Chance “showed” her what happened on his trip to college- a trailer wheel falling off the side of the road.  His head hitting one side of the trailer and slamming the other side.  The pain.  The concussion.  His neck and back becoming misaligned.  His jaw coming out of position. His body compensating. He showed the decline of his once functioning body- starting with the hit on his head, to his jaw, and his neck.  Down his neck and through his back towards his hips and down his legs.  The wear and tear of his body.  Chance stated that he is still angry with the person driving the trailer; he wasn’t ready to forgive.  I have forgiven them.  I have no doubt it was a mistake and that there was no ill intent.  But, I am not the one feeling the pain that he is.  I am not the one who went from a racehorse to a jumper to practicing dressage to retirement long before I should have. And like the “horse whisperer” said, she will “hold the forgiveness for him until he is ready.”  I will do the same.  

She spoke of his time on the racetrack.  Chance was happy to hear that he was being remembered for who he once was, and will always be to me- a strong, beautiful and crazy talented 17.1 hand red-headed thoroughbred and not a “weak old man” as he put it.  When asked what his name was during his time on the track, he said, “Hot Stuff”, which could be a nickname and not his actual race name.

At one point during Chance’s session he fell asleep; standing in an odd way- hind legs spread out.  Suddenly, his body gave out and he caught himself from falling.  This entire time his eyes were still closed!  They remained closed for another minute after this.  His body reacting to something, perhaps a shift in his energies, and all the while he was a a state of peace; trusting that nothing bad would happen to him. 

The session lasted an hour and a half.  Honestly, we could have continued because of all the “blockages” but decided to stop for the day and pick up again another day.  I was told that the effects of the energy work or Reiki, would continued throughout the week and that he would be emotionally vulnerable.  As the session wrapped up Chance apparently said that he was the lucky one because I found him all those years ago.  


Energy Work and Reiki Resources


 The Benefits of Equine Reiki

Reiki for Horses: Workshops, Training, Courses, and Resources

Reiki Related Research and Resources for Two and Four Legged Friends

Equine Reiki Academy

Amorosa Equestrian Center in Ohio

The History of Reiki

Reiki Forum on Horse and Hound

Reiki Handout: Full history, explanation, and how to pictures


Equine Communication


How Horses Communicate

How to Speak Horse

Horse Forum: Horse Communicators


Head Trauma and Headaches in Horses


Symptoms of Equine Concussions

Trauma, Concussions or Other Brain injuries in Horses

How to Handle Horse Head Injuries

Helping Horses with Traumatic Brain Injuries

Merck Vet Manual: Equine Trauma and First Aid

Do Horses Get Headaches?

Chronic Lyme in Horses: Headaches