I have worked and played with a lot of different animals and they all fascinate me but none more than the horse. The big question is how they think about things and how they make decisions about what they are going to do. When I was young my parents and teachers told me that animals only did things by instinct and that they were incapable of any kind of thought process. I no longer believe that. Here a few little stories about my experiences with our horses.
Two years ago we had a load of gravel delivered into our paddock to build up the area in and around our run in barn. I had to move it using a wheel barrow because of the confined areas. The horses were in the paddock when I started this. After moving three wheel barrow loads, my horse Kai came up beside me while I was loading and he started to paw down the gravel from the top of the pile. I stroked him and told him he was a good boy. After that he helped me with every load. Last year we had a load of screenings delivered for our round pen in our lower paddock. As soon as we let the horses in that paddock he found the pile and started to level it. The picture is in my last blog.
Val`s horse, Bob, has a different talent. One day while grooming him Val dropped her glove. Bob picked it up and held it in his mouth until Val accepted it from him and rewarded him. She has turned this into a little game with him by dropping different items which he retrieves and gives them back to her. One day she took Bob into the round pen to do some liberty exercises. She dropped the halter and lead rope in the centre of the pen and proceeded with the exercises. After 15 minutes she asked him to disengage and come to her on the far side of the pen. Bob came to the centre of the pen and picked up the halter and waited for her to come get it. It was pretty clear he was letting her know he had had enough and wanted her to put his halter on and take him out to do something else.
Last week Val was doing some clean up in the paddock. She was going around and picking up small rocks that had surfaced since the spring. We try to clean these up to avoid having the horses bruise their feet. She had picked up several stones when she noticed Bob was about 50 feet away with his nose to the ground and snuffling around something. She went over to see what he was doing and found he had uncovered a base ball size rock that had been partially covered with ground. Val picked it up, thanked him, and he went back to the hay feeder.
These are just a couple of little things that we have noticed our horses do, that seem to show a thought process that goes beyond instinct or simple rote learning. I certainly don`t believe it is just coincidence.