JUNE 2019 THE RIDER /33 ^Between The Ears^ We now know that horses By Ellie Ross

Cognitive Abilities of Horses

The cognitive ability of

horses has been underestimated for far too long and its time to give credit where credit is due. One will never know the actual ability of horses unless the op- portunity is presented and I am excited to share that there are re- searchers exploring this!

are able to discriminate between symbols that had associations with corresponding outcomes when it came to blanketing. In addition to the three symbols used in that research, it extended to both two and three dimen- sional shapes. It was explored to determine if horses could under- stand and identify categories of geometric shapes, larger vs. smaller, relativity of sizes, solid vs. not solid and also sameness. There were horses that demon- strated these concepts and they retained this knowledge ex- tremely well. There was one horse in particular that had a ten year gap in testing. When this horse was presented with the task after ten years of having not been exposed or requested to partici- pate in this study, the horse con- fidently made the correct choices of sizes, shapes and so on. Often people question a horse’s mem- ory or learning retention. Exploring the cognitive

abilities of horses has practical uses such as the comfort level of

Be prepared for unwanted visitors on the farm

By Keith Currie, President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture Trespassing on farm property

is a growing concern for Ontario farmers. From rural trail hikers de- touring into a pasture to ATV drivers ruining crops, farmers have dealt with all types of unwanted visitors on the farm who leave varying degrees of damage. The latest threat to farmers, especially livestock farmers and transporters is the increasing risk of activists trespassing, invading, break- ing into barns and harassing farmers, their families and employees. The Ontario Federation of

Agriculture (OFA) is reminding all Ontario farmers to be aware of these ongoing threats and take precautions to prevent, or at least mitigate the consequences of any trespassers that threaten regular farm activities, farm- ers, their families or employees. OFA is encouraging all farm-

ers to be prepared for unwanted visi- tors on your farm by: • Post No Trespassing signs and any

necessary biosecurity signs to clearly mark private property. • Lock all building doors and vehi- cles. Remove keys from tractors and equipment and store them some- where safe. • Monitor visitors and watch for sus- picious vehicles or activities on or around farm property. • Consider adding video surveillance to barns or high traffic areas of the farm. • Train family and employees how to respond to unwanted visitors and sit- uations that would require calling po- lice.

OFA is working with our agri-

cultural industry partners to raise awareness of this serious on-farm issue and lobby our provincial gov- ernment to ensure the safety of On- tario’s farm families and their employees. We’re also asking for stronger enforcement of animal ac- tivists who are conducting these ille- gal and threatening activities. Farmers, their families and employ-

ees are becoming increasingly fright- ened and frustrated. OFA reminds farmers to be

prepared and call police if necessary. We’re all facing this threat of activists and trespassers together. And we’re asking farmers to add their voice to an online letter campaign that will send a letter di- rectly to your MPP to reg- ister your concern for the growing threat of animal activism. Add your voice

today by visiting Follow the simple instructions to sign your name to a letter that urges the provincial government to deliver bet- ter police protection and stronger


against animal activists to ensure the safety of our farms, our families and our employees.

horses in the blanketing study in last month’s article. Beyond that, the possibilities of this insight and communication could greatly improve training and understand- ing of our equines. Equines that were being

taught and tested through multi- ple exemplars learned faster than those with tedious repetition. By breaking up the monotony of te- dious repetition, the horses were not only happier but more will- ing, interested and retained the information better. So while horses do indeed learn via means utilizing repetitions, horses that have a variety in their life tend to have fewer behavioral problems. There have been very few

studies on equine cognition as opposed to dolphins, primates, canines etc. I often say that abuse begins where knowledge ends and the mistreatment of horses is usually related to the misunderstanding of horses. Contrary to popular belief that horses do not gene r a l i z e well, they ac- tually do. Horses can make relative judgements,

solve problems and facilitate learning. When we start provid- ing horses with the opportunity to think and make choices, we will begin to understand their prefer- ences and their abilities. Tradi- tionally training of horses is limited to repetition, negative re- inforcement and punishment for wrong choices. By allowing horses to make a choice and even more impor- tantly, to allow them to make mistakes, the horse learns from those mistakes and hence learns to make better choices. A horse that is allowed to

think and make choices is a horse that is a far better state of mental health. Just imagine living your day to day life where you are ex- pected to respond like a robot. Horses that are trained uti-

lizing methods where the trainer is teaching the horse that there is only one choice, is not really a choice at all. This type of appli- cation frequently leads to depres-

sion in horses and a very un- healthy mental state. Some would refer to the horse as ‘hav- ing no life in his eyes’. Often these horses are very well edu- cated and they are consistent in the training they have been taught but they do so lacking an- imation and life. Eventually these horses shut down and give up. One should imagine them- selves living life where you are told you have a choice but essen- tially you do not. The only choice you have is do what you are told. There is no out. The only way out is to do it. We know more now than

we ever did and we owe our horses a happier existence. Ellie Ross hosts the face-

book page Equine Cognitive Learning and Applied Behavior at Horse

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