Horses understand human gestures

Seems pretty obvious to any horse lover. Yet until recently scientists had not really looked into the complexity of how horses and humans interact with each other. If you go out everyday to take care of your horse, your horse knows what you are up to. As you start heading towards the barn, your horse anticipates your actions and acts according to what they know you will do. Your gestures mean something to them. This is why horses and humans interact so well together. They have the ability to respond to us intelligently. Equine aided therapy would not be possible if horses did not respond to us. It is why they are our perfect partners. **REMINDER** 8 more days left of our St Patty’s Day contest. Go to our timeline at to view the pictures and vote. Click on the St Patty’s Day Photo Contest link on that page to enter. A fun way to promote Habitat for Horses and you might win a prize! ~ HfH

From: BBC
By: Zoe Gough

Horses can decide not to use human signals if they desire a more immediate reward (credit: age fotostock / Alamy)

Horses can decide not to use human signals if they desire a more immediate reward (credit: age fotostock / Alamy)

Horses (Equus caballus) were first domesticated around 6,000 years ago and have performed many important roles since then, but their ability to understand the gestures of their human handlers remained unstudied until fairly recently.

To date research has suggested that while horses are able to understand some signals, such as pointing, they are only able to use these signals when the human remains near to the reward.

Their level of ability has previously been said to be similar to that of goats and cats, they are able to use human gestures even though they cannot be said to understand the meaning attached to the gesture.

A study in 2004 suggested that horses had limited short-term memory and may not have a prospective memory, which reminds them to do something at a later date, but more recent studies have shown horses do use short-term memory in foraging tasks.

Now a group of Italian-based scientists have demonstrated that horses are not only capable of reading human actions but can also change the way they respond to a task based on their own experiences.

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1 Comment
  • Daniel Cordero

    Very good article. It was about time science addressed this subject. Many people still regard equines as dumb -typically those that never dealt with horses-. Articles like this will hopefully dispel that myth.

    March 8, 2015