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How Do Horses Think
 By Winniefield Park   •   1st Apr 2017   •   1,469 views   •   0 comments
How Do Horses Think

I once had a non-horse person ask me if horses could think. The question surprised me because Iíve never considered that they couldnít. Do they think like humans? Probably not. They donít need to. The canít read, their eyes canít focus on print and they canít tap on a keyboard because the one finger on each Ďhandí is too big to hit a key. But, they do think like horses and for about the last 6 million years, theyíve been very good at figuring out how to survive - and they did it I might add, without destroying their environment, which is something humans apparently canít figure out how to do.

Humans think in different ways. We think creatively, analytically, critically, abstractly, concretely to name just a few ways we actively use our brains. We can think in words and pictures. This is all due to the fact that we have a pretty big prefrontal cortex for all that thinking to contain all that thinking. Emotion governs much of our thinking. We canít be completely rational and analytical like a Dr. Spock from Star Trek, But we can use our thoughts to harness our emotions. Horses may have a more difficult time with this.

As a survival-driven prey animal, quick transitioning from feeling the emotion of fear to physical action is essential. In the face of a predator, a horse doesnít have time for analysis. If they smell a cougar, they donít take the time to consider how far away it might be, whether itís already eaten or if it might be behind a fence in a nearby zoo. They instinctively put as much space between themselves and that smell as quickly as possible. Itís this quick emotion to action characteristic that we have to work with and sometimes around when we handle and train our horses.

It could be that we donít respond as quickly to signs of danger that get us into trouble. We might see evidence of a cougar when weíre out walking, but instead of putting some distance between ourselves and the cougar, we choose to go looking for it. We rationalize that the tracks we see are old, itís not the right time of day for a cougar to eat and itís probably more afraid of us than we are of it. We are rationalizing prey animals, free to roam through our pre-frontal cortex.

We are also more likely to think in words. Horses may be more likely to think in pictures. This is why you canít talk a horse out of anything. To a horse, the water hose lying beside the trough may look like a snake, and it will take showing them itís a water hose and perfectly safe to make them think otherwise. And, if theyíve been hurt by the water hose/snake, itís possible you may never convince them itís safe to go near. They donít spend any time reasoning that their human picked up the snake, water came out of the snake and the snake has no visible teeth. Their instinct for survival overrides everything else.

A horseís memory may, in some ways, be better than ours. This is important because it will always need to know that snakes and cougars are dangerous, what they look and sound like and the places where both are likely to be (the front of horse trailers). The downside for us is that if it has a bad experience in a trailer with a blue interior, it will probably not want to load on that trailer, but be fine getting on a trailer with a white interior and weíll wonder why. That attention to detail can get in the way of what we want them to do.

Humans do things for approval. We rationalize that this is the way to be accepted by others. It takes some thinking to figure out what will get someone elseís approval and attention. Horses are very social, but they donít vie for attention like humans do.

Weíre learning more about how horses think and emote. Iíve certainly only scratched the surface here. But the answer to my friendís question is simply yes, horses think but they think like horses.
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