Discovery News just resleased the report of a study conducted by ethologist Carol Sankey of the University of Rennes. The results confirm for science what horse enthusiasts have always known: “Equid social relationships are long-lasting and, in some cases, lifelong,” reported Sankey and her colleagues. The team, who studied 20 Anglo-Arabian and three French Saddlebred horses stabled in Chamberet, France, has been accepted for publication in the journal Animal Behavior. (Jennifer Vargas, Discovery News)
If you have ever known or loved a horse, you may not be entirely surprised by the results of the study:
- Horses remain loyal to humans with which they have had past, positive encounters.
- The animals remember people even after long separation.
- Horses understand vocal commands well.
Perhaps Jill Starr, president and founder of Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue put it best, “Horses can be very forgiving, but they never forget.”
Last week, I took MSU Ducati for a walk around the grounds outside, enjoying the beautiful spring weather. Toward the end, we walked toward The Wash Rack. I was relaxed, no hidden agenda, just thought it a good time to start inching closer toward that fateful spot. Now, I realize that The Wash Rack is not a person – but it is simple testimony to the horse’s ability to remember, good or bad.
When Duke had his accident last summer, it was in the wash rack. He was single-tied and there was no safety release, a terrible oversight on my part. When he spooked, probably at the freshly planted flowers that were surely about to gobble him up, he exploded in terror. He fought to free himself, pulling the lead and halter so tight we could not free him. He reared, he fell to the ground, struggled against the rope that bound him. In this terrible flash, he cracked his baby tooth. Eventually, we calmed him enough to rescue him from the situation.
There was no doubt this spring that his equine brain remembered. His head rose, his eyes grew wider, muscles tightened as we approached. He balked as if to say “You really don’t expect me to go near that thing, do you?” I have my work cut out for me in re-training Ducati to trust the wash area.
But, I have something going for me this year that I didn’t have when all this happened. Ducati has bonded with me as his leader. He trusts me. He is less reactive and more focused on my physical and verbal cues. Duke and I have both learned a whole lot this past year. After several successful approaches, we got two hooves onto the pavement of the wash area last week. His head dropped, and he relaxed a bit. Enough for one day I cheered to him and gave him a scratch! We may be able to figure this out after all!