Researchers seek innovative thinkers among horses


dungDo you know an equine Einstein, a horse Houdini, or a pickpocketing pony?

If so, equine behaviour researchers at the University of Nürtingen in Germany would like to hear from you.

Professor Konstanze Krueger and her team are looking for examples of innovative behaviour in horses – that is to say, behaviours horses have created for themselves to solve a particular problem.

Innovative behaviour is a key factor in assessing intelligence, and if this research shows that horses can and do show innovative behaviour, it will mean they are smarter than many people believe.

Some examples have already been submitted, such as the Friesian mare who can open the bolts on stables and feed bins. Having mastered the technique, she uses it to let herself and her friends out of their boxes, and to help herself to a tasty snack.

There is also the horse who uses a stick to poke out the hay that has fallen under the hay rack to provide an extra helping for himself and his mule buddy.

There is even the pony who can dismantle the fence around his field – not forgetting the semi-wild horses in Italy who show a talent for gardening.

All these are behaviours the equines in question have invented for themselves, and there was no deliberate training involved, the researchers say.

In fact, it is a mystery how each one came up with the idea to do what they do – and that is why it counts as innovative behaviour.

The researchers say they are keen to receive feedback from anyone who owns or knows of a horse that does something unusual – something that most horses don’t do. It might be using a tool to achieve a goal (such as the stick to reach the hay), or a particular trick or skill the horse has come up with to get what he or she wants.

They want to know about any goal-oriented behaviour that is not typical for horses.

The team believes that horses are almost certainly smarter than they are usually given credit for – and horse owners can help them prove it.

If enough examples of innovative behaviour in horses are collected, they say they will be able to put together a scientific study that will demonstrate horse intelligence.

Horse owners with candidates can fill fill out a simple questionnaire, describing their horse and what it does, illustrated, if possible, by a video or photos.

People can also read about some of the amazing feats attributed to horses.

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