Horse behaviour: generalizations from observations of one population?

It would be safe to state that, although Equus caballus clearly have innate patterns of behaviour, the feral horses being studied today have many adaptive consequences imposed by occupying new niches in geographical locations for which they have not evolved.

Horses evolved to ultimately live in groups in large open spaces, like plains and savannahs, but have adapted fairly well to life in places so marginal as the desert of Namib, or the coasts of Assateague and Chiconteague. Clearly the behaviours observed from these feral horses have many points in common, thus the commonality of the species, but again surely their behaviour must also differ in consonance with the constraints inevitably imposed by their relatively new environments.

A clear example of this, is that many feral horses no longer suffer selective pressures from predatory animals like larger canines or felines. This lack of predation, even if only to the slightest degree, must necessarily affect group cohesion, but not only in horses as it must be so for many other prey species as well.

A comparative approach between feral horse populations is hence called for, if any macro-determination of the behaviour of Equus caballus is to be sought. This means not that the observations on feral horses up to date have been futile, but it does mean that to have a fuller picture of equine behaviour, one should consider a “broader spectrum”, one which would invariably include particular adaptations to particular environments.

This would entail the consideration of a range of behaviours similar or differing across the species depending on the selective pressures of their environments. The existence of scarce resources or that of over-abundance will surely vary their life strategies. It would surely be naive to consider that a well fed animal would behave (goes about his/her business) in the same manner as one that is hungry.

Snapping at “Alphas” and submission in horses

Versión Españolswedish flag

Humans tend to have a stereotypic understanding of how horses behave, which is likely caused by the incredible amount of cultural baggage accumulated through millennia of relating to them. When I speak of human stereotypies in respect horses, I refer to those unquestioned practices that are detrimental to their maintenance and handling.

Horsemen from all walks of life, disciplines and dispositions, seem to favor (still) the idea of establishing rank between themselves and the horses with which they interact. Countless, unwanted behaviors are apparently solved as soon as the horse knows who is boss. Fair-enough, for those easily convinced by supercharged preaching. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the different approaches to horsemanship, as most have helped someone or their horse, or even both, to a better relationship, and that is a good thing.

However, it is a shame that such good trainers don’t take the time to understand what it is they are actually talking about, but instead blurt out gospel to the unweary. I am not about to argue, whether “Alphas” actually exist or not, as circumstances and environments vary greatly enough to produce the so called alpha position in groups, sometimes clearly seen in a domestic (restricted) setting. Alpha animals are usually despots (dictators), and I am certain that most, but not all, involved in horses don’t actually intend gaining this label.

When is fact separated from fiction, and whose responsibility is it to ensure that the information one provides to others, is at least realistic, or even just contrasted to the body of knowledge accumulated over the years?

Few biologists, ethologists, or behavioral ecologists have actually studied horses in free living conditions, whatever that may mean. One of the reasons behind this lack of interest is likely due to horses having gone extinct in the habitats in which they have evolved, coupled with the difficulty of working in the field. Few populations of this ultimate prey animal are actually predated on, and this on its own poses many questions in need of answers, especially in regard to social dynamics, and how predators influence group cohesion.

Horses are social for many reasons, but the main justification of sociality is that the benefits of being social outweigh those of being solitary. Cooperation in horses has been largely overlooked, and focus has been placed on a byproduct of cooperating groups: intragroup aggression and dominance hierarchies.

foal snapping at pinxo fsw

Following any definition that may be outlined, it is clear that to attain such a position in any given group a series of environmental variables, including interactions with conspecifics, would have to hold true. For instance, competition over resources, in which the alpha or “top dog” has exclusive rights over all others in a group, is limited by environmental constraints. Horses, in free living conditions are not known to compete over grass which grows everywhere; it would be a waste of time and energy. In fact in one of the most comprehensive studies on horses at the Granite Range by Berger and coworkers (1986) had this to say about the importance of dominance hierarchies:

“Classically it has been thought that through aggressiveness individuals may achieve high rank and access to limited food resources (reviewed by Wittenberger, 1981). This did not seem to be the case among Granite Range females.”

“(…) even in early spring when food was most limited and new vegetative growth had not yet begun, few feeding displacements occurred.”

“If dominance confers reproductive benefits upon female horses, some effects of dominance should be discernible. Over the study period NO CLEAR CORRELATES BETWEEN REPRODUCTIVE SUCCESS AND DOMINANCE EMERGED” (Berger, 1986: emphasis mine)

“(…) more than 98% of a stallion’s annual time budget was spent in nonaggressive activities.”

Berger (1986), who was responsible for this 5 year study of horses in the Granite Range, speaks clearly enough for those who even bother to read his book; Wild Horses of the Great Basin: Social Competition and Population Size, in this age of cut and paste. (I recommend his book to all!)

In a less “naturalistic” setting, such in paddocks or corrals, we do however see horses attempting, sometimes incessantly, to control focal resources such as feed buckets, piles of hay,  water troughs, salt licks and so on.

“Under natural conditions, it is rare to see overt aggression or a single individual controlling a limited resource. Surely under natural conditions, horses rarely have the equivalent of an alpha individual within a band or an alpha band within a herd. Rather there is usually a more complex, less linear order, with division of leadership and defense roles played by a number of individuals and sometimes alliances that swing into action depending on the situation.” (Sue McDonnell, 2003 – The Equid Ethogram pp. 21-22)

I agree wholeheartedly with the above statement from Dr. McDonnell and findings of Berger (1986), further up. I also agree that under free-living conditions the beauty of social order, or disorder for that matter, reeks with variable life strategies which are usually limited by a domestic setting.

It seems in my mind that many observers extrapolate their knowledge and experience from a domestic setting, to a “wilder” one in free ranging or feral conditions, and this is in my opinion never expressed better than by Stephen Budiansky (1977):

“Horses have been enveloped in human dreams, myths, ambitions, and sentiment for so long that the story we have come to think of as theirs is often but a distorted reflection of our own desires, and then not always our most noble desires.”

“The myths that man has attached to the horse, and the motives we impute to it, continue to form a set of unconscious and often unexamined assumptions about equine nature”

Enough of the alpha horse for a while, let us look at another perplexing matter for some, including myself, which can be found in what is frequently termed submission in horses. Continuing in our creation of “just so” stories that would make Rudyard Kipling proud, we stumble upon another term which is often used but never explained.

moving away snapping

As there is allegedly expected to be a “top dog” in all horse groups, at least for those that wish it to be so, there must then also be the opposite: the “underdog”, the runt of the litter or submissive individual.

A host of horsemen sell methods in which they teach one to gain the position a dominant horse would have within its family band. Gestures, eye contact, waving plastic bags, body position all used to communicate our intentions of being “Alpha” in our herd of two. Most of these procedures rely on something that usually does not materialize, as hard as we may try, and this lies in waiting for a submissive gesture from the horse.

A quick look through scientific literature on horse behavior, leaves one perplexed as to what these gestures actually are, or even if they exist at all….oh but they must. However as Sue McDonnell points out, in the scientific academia discussions on this topic reveal that “(…) submission in an open plain species such as the horse means withdrawal or escape.” (McDonnell, 1993).

Instead of expecting withdrawal from aggressive or threatening encounters, a host of gestures and head postures are meant to call our attention to the readiness of the horse in accepting our self-proclaimed leadership, alpha or superman status. Head lowering, lip smacking and a host of other gestures have been portrayed as indicative of submission, but are they really?

We have two considerations in respect to submission worthy of contemplation, one of which is submissive retreat (McDonnell, 1993), also known as facing away (Feist, 1971) or fleeing (Houpt & Wolski, 1982). This so called submissive retreat is catalogued in the Equid Ethogram as: “(…) movement that maintains or increases an individual’s distance from an approaching or following herd mate.”( McDonnell, 1993)

A quick look at the description of this behavior as depicted in the Ethogram, a wonderful work by the way, points out a specific position in which the retreating horse has its head held low, with ears turned back, in any gait but typically in trot.

Quite different to what some horsemen expect, horse facing you lowering head or moving jaws as if saying: I give in, I want to negotiate or even: Hello there Mr. Alpha. Dogs bow and tumble on their back, so then horses must do something similar….people cower in fear and show reverence to deities and authority, but is this what we expect from horses?

On the other hand we have what is supposed to be “THE” horse submissive posture that most of us have actually seen, in the way of an immature horse opening and closing its jaw with head lowered and extended, with bending in the knees or not….usually to mature horse. Most of us call this submission, but again, is it really?

The German Zoologist, Zeeb (1959), called this behavior Unterlegenheitsgebarde, while we nowadays call it snapping, champing, tooth clapping or jawing. Because this behavior was normally exhibited by young foals to mature horses, especially the stallion, we were quick to label it as submissive. It was actually Boyd, who first questioned this as being actual submission, as it did not inhibit aggression by others, and that defeats the function of a submissive behavior. Although it is reported that this behavior may have an appeasement value to that who engages in it, which is to say that the behavior calms the alleged submissive individual, little is yet known on what is going on.

Further studies, this time from Crowell Davis and colleagues (1985), suggested that snapping as described by Tyler (1972), may actually be a “displacement activity developed from nursing” (Crowell et al, 1985).

Much is still to be learned about the human-horse dyad, and what I myself have written may have to be revised in accordance with the progress of understanding, but let us not keep fueling “JUST SO STORIES” as these will only cause detrimental false beliefs, and we have enough of those in the horse world.

Just for thought, the submissive posture of a trained horse is equated to LEARNED HELPLESSNESS!

“Learned Helplessness/Submissive Posture

Standing quietly with head lowered, unresponsive to normal social and environmental stimuli, and moving away only on release command or directive of the handler. Consideed basic training in certain Western show and working disciplines.

Comments: Achieved using flooding and desensitization during inmobilization” (From the Equid Ethogram, Page 314, by Sue McDonnell)



Zebra affairs – flies and stripes

Whether you think zebras are white with black stripes, or black with white stripes, will depend much on your way of looking at things, although DNA tests confirmed that zebras were originally a dark color and evolved the lighter shades.

You would surely agree that the most obvious characteristic of zebras are their striking striped patterns. The striped patterns of the zebra must have reminded the Romans of tigers, as they named the zebras Hippotigris, to describe these horses with tiger-like patterns.

Much like human fingerprints, zebra stripes are personal, and no two zebras have been found to bear the same markings.

The stripes run vertically on the head, neck, forequarters and the main body, while running horizontally in the rear and legs. How can such conspicuous markings be favorable in any way, if the stripes on zebras are as striking as a “turd in a punchbowl”?

For many years it was clear to most that the zebra had evolved stripes as a predator defense mechanism, and many explanations have supported this. The stripes of several individuals together will confuse the predator as the pattern merges to form a large optic illusion where individuals disappear in the stripes of the crowd, thus making it difficult for predators to focus on a solitary individual.


stripes zebras hamiltonmarler
Just for the fun of it, you can step away from the screen while looking at the above image, and you will appreciate how one of the zebras slowly blends into the surroundings depending on the distance from which it is seen, or the eyes that see it.


Of course, if one considers that lions (Panthera leo) are the zebra’s main predator, and these felines are allegedly color blind, it makes more sense that zebras blend into a background that is not black and white. It is also thought that lions have difficulty in seeing zebras that are inmobile in tall grass. If  truly colorblind,  the picture above is likely to give a small “lion’s” glimpse of the optical ilusion created between the striped horses and the backdrop.

For most, when predators are mentioned in relation to zebras, one almost immediately thinks of lions, hyenas, Lycaon and suchlike, but two recent experiments support stripes as an effective means of confusing the visual system of predators through disruptive coloration; however the predators studied are the much smaller and possibly more persistent blood-sucking tsetse fly and horse flies. Both these flies are  Tabanidae, or tabanids as they are more commonly known. After all,  the notoriety of ungulates as targets for flies of all varieties is common knowledge, and pests like these are likely to pose potential feeding difficulties, blood loss, and transmission of disease.

The “fly” hypothesis was tested in a farm near Budapest plagued with horseflies, wherein the experimenters painted horse-shaped surfaces with black and white stripes of varying widths and angles, these striped surfaces were then covered in glue to see which pattern attracted (by number of flies stuck to the glue) the most flies. The results revealed that flies were drawn less to narrower stripes. They later painted all black, all white and striped surfaces just to check other variables, finding that flies were least likely to be attracted to striped surfaces. These findings are in line with earlier studies of the tsetse flies that showed these flies had a preference for large dark moving objects.

In fact, if stripe formation was linked to pest avoidance it would make sense in the light of inter-specific grazing, as between zebra and wildebeast or zebra and antelope. As flies are attracted to the darker colors of the other grazing ungulates, zebras would undoubtedly suffer less bites per capita that the darker species grazing alongside the zebra.

As mentioned earlier, no two zebra marking are the same, and this has led to another hypothesis whereby stripes are likely to play an important role in individual recognition, important for most social mammals.

Another hypothesis favors the role of stripes in thermo-regulation, the striped pattern helping to dissipate the heat of the African plains. A curious observation is that as you go further south on the African plains, the farther apart is the patterning, from narrower  to wider stripes.

Three species of zebra remain, plains zebra (Equus quagga), Grevyi’s zebra (Equus grevyi) and mountain zebra (Equus zebra), of these the seriously endangered Grevyi’s zebra has the narrowest stripes.


While searching the web for information regarding zebras, I came across a curious African Bush tale of how Zebras got their stripes.

Long ago, when animals were still new on earth, the weather was very hot, and what little water there was remained in pools and pans. One of these was guarded by a boisterous baboon, who claimed that he was the ‘lord of the water’ and forbade anyone from drinking at his pool. When a zebra and his son came down to have a drink, the baboon, who was sitting by his fire, jumped up.

‘Go away, intruders,’ he barked. ‘This is my pool and I am the lord of the water.’

‘The water is for everyone, not just for you, monkey-face,’ shouted back the zebra’s son.

‘If you want it, you must fight for it,’ returned the baboon in a fine fury, and in a moment the two were locked in combat. Back and forth they went, until with a mighty kick, the zebra sent the baboon flying high up among the rocks of the krantz behind them.

The baboon landed with a smack on his seat, and to this day he carries the bare patch where he landed.

The zebra staggered back through the baboon’s fire, which scorched him, leaving stripes across his white fur. The shock sent the zebra galloping away to the plains, where he has stayed ever since.

The baboon and his family, however, remain high up among the rocks where they bark defiance at all strangers, and hold up their tails to ease the smarting of their bald patches.


Read more on zebras:

Equus Evolution: The Security of Stripes in the Zebra Population

Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre



Bard, J. B. L. 1977. A unity underlying the different zebra striping patterns. J. Zool. (London) 183: 527-539.

Bard, J. B. L. 1981. A model for generating aspects of zebra and other mammalian coat patterns. J. Theoret. Biol. 19: 363-385.

Egri, A. et al. Polarotactic tabanids find striped patterns with brightness and/or polarization modulation least attractive: an advantage of zebra stripes. Journal of Experimental Biology 215, 736-745 (2012).

Horváth, G. et al. An unexpected advantage of whiteness in horses: the most horsefly proof horse has a depolarizing white coat. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 277, 1643-1650 (2010)

Marler, P. and Hamilton, W. J. 1968. Mechanisms of Animal Behavior. Wiley, New York.

Ruxton, G. D. 2002. The possible fitness benefits of striped coat coloration for zebra. Mammal Review 32:237-244.

Vale, G. A. 1974. The response of tsetse flies (Diptera, Glossinidae) to mobile and stationary baits. Bull. Entom. Res. 64: 545 – 588.

Waage, J. K. 1981. How the zebra got its stripes: biting flies as selective agents in the evolution of zebra coloration. J. Entom. Soc. South Afric. 44: 351 – 358.

What do Guinea pigs have to do with horses?

Although many children may have at some point in their lives enjoyed their company as pets, little is known about what Guinea Pigs really are.

Despite the name; Guinea Pigs, Cavia porcellus, are not actually pigs, but cavimorph rodents. Funnily enough though, mature males are called boars; females are sows and parturition is called farrowing, but offspring are called pups instead of piglets.

Their origins can be traced to the Andean highlands and in Quechua, a central highland tongue; they are called “quwe” or “cuy” as they are now more commonly known in the Andean highlands. Cavies, as they are sometimes called, derive their name from the taxonomic family Caviidae, to which they belong. This rodent family is more closely related to the capybara, chinchilla and porcupine, than it is to the mouse and rat. (Gade, 1967)

The origin of their domestication is slightly obscure, but there is no doubt that they were first domesticated in the Andean altiplano of South America, roughly between 5000-7000 years ago. Cavies were domesticated as an important source of food, as well as for religious and medical ceremonies.

One such medico-religious ceremony is Shoqma, an Andean ritual in which healers or “subadores” rub a live cuy over an afflicted person’s body, much in the manner of an X-ray or scanner. The little animal is then consulted either by watching its behavior, or alternately slitting the animal open, to read the diagnosis.

Guinea Pigs were extensively used as laboratory animals and used as subjects in countless experiments, and “guinea pig” is still used as a metaphor in English for a subject of experimentation. The usage of guinea pigs as experimental subjects, have led to the discovery of Vitamin C in 1907, adrenaline and the bacterium for tuberculosis: Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Robert Koch, 1882), to name a few.

gpc drawing gpc drawinggpc drawinggpc drawinggpc drawinggpc drawinggpc drawing

Linnaues (1758), was the first to classify the guinea pig, baptizing it with the scientific name; Mus porcellus. Pallas (1766), unaware of the earlier classification, did the same under the scientific name: Cavia cobaya. In a gest of sportsmanship and taking a bit from both earlier classifications, taxonomic nomenclature was readjusted to the present; Cavia porcellus.

It is likely that Cavia porcellus derived from C. apareaC. tschudii, or C. fulgida.

Although C. porcellus are allegedly no longer found living in a wild state, feral populations do exist.

gpc drawing gpc drawinggpc drawinggpc drawinggpc drawinggpc drawinggpc drawing

Guinea pigs are social herbivores that feed in groups with little competition for food (Harper, 1976).

In free living conditions, breeding units are formed; these family groups are usually comprised of a male and 3-6 females together with their offspring. These family units or harem type formations, live close to other breeding units and temporary assemblages forming colonies.

With poor eyesight Guinea pigs rely on well-developed senses, and communicate primarily by sounds and scent. They emit noises such as the wheek, chutt, squeak, purr and chirp which are likely to convey much information about an individual’s “state” to others. For example, a guinea pig “chutts” when exploring, “whistles” when separated from or reunited with a companion, and “purrs” when seeking contact (Harper 1976).

As expected in a social species, bonds are formed amongst individuals and communication is by way of vocalizations such as the “wheek” usually heard when visually separated from companions, or “purring” for seeking or experiencing social contact. Urine and glandular secretions are also used to mark territories of up to 1500 m2 and one another.

Guinea pig pups are precocial. They are born fully-furred, with well-developed sensory and locomotor abilities, and they can consume solid food the same day they are born (Kunkele and Trillmich 1997) Females reach sexual maturity at two months of age; males reach it at three months (Nowak 1999)

As a prey species they are generally nervous of new sights, sounds and smells and have acute senses for detecting possible threats. Most prey species are cautious to approach novel stimuli, including conspecifics. They stretch out and contact the novel item or individual with their whiskers, a posture that allows them to flee if need be.

Unlike horses however, a perceived threat is immediately responded with a freeze or immobility response that is known to last up to 30 minutes. When a group is alerted, individuals may flee haphazardly in what is known as the scatter response.

Guinea Pigs are not known to dig their own burrows, but seem to depend on burrows abandoned by other animals or natural shelters which they provision with vegetation as bedding. This makes sense if we consider how little agile they are for these types of tasks, in comparison to other close relatives.

Like horses, they need a high fiber diet based on grasses and hays, the abrasiveness of which help in wearing down their constantly growing teeth. Guinea Pigs, not horses, undergo a digestive process called caecotrophy, wherein special droppings, called caecotrophs which are passed through the gut and are re-ingested to optimize foraging. They remember learned pathways to food sources and such like, which confirm an interesting degree of spatial memory.

A quick look at the time budget of Guinea pigs in free living conditions, confirms that they usually spend up to 20 hours in a day active, and sleep only for short periods.

So as you can see, with the inherent differences one is bound to expect, there are quite a few similarities too.

PILOPHAGIA – hair-bivory in horses

Some of you may have noticed that many of the Koniks in our recent series of photos have very short tails. The culprit it seems, is not the water-bogged habitat they live in, or at least not totally, it is that some foals are HAIR-BIVORES instead of herbivores. Thanks to Dr. Machteld van Dierendonck, for pointing this behaviour out.

This hair-bivory is also known as Pilophagia which is characterized by the licking and eating of hair and body coat. Below are some images taken during a visit to the Konik ponies at the Oostvaardenplasser reserve.

In the images below a foal chews and licks the tail hairs of a stallion.

We hope you enjoy the images!

A review of horsemanship in early literature:Hints on Horsemanship, to a Nephew and Niece

By Colonel George Greenwood (1861)

It is, no doubt, our duty to create the happiness and to prevent the misery of every living thing; but with our horse this is also a matter of “policy”. George Greenwood-1861

What a wonderful title for a book on horsemanship! Despite the sweet title, the book is actually quite technical and packed with advice on riding techniques. The following excerpt from Chapter 1 on why the Colonel chooses to use the word “indications” instead of the still common term “aids” was a delight to find:

By “indications” generally, I mean the motions and applications of the hands, legs, and whip, to direct and determine the paces, turnings, movements, and carriage of the horse. I have used the word throughout instead of “aids”, as being more explanatory and certainly less liable to abuse. For common sense tells us that a horse receives no aid from a pull in the mouth with a piece of iron, or a blow with a whip, or a kick in the side with an armed heel, however these may indicate to him the wishes or commands of his rider. I have also used the term “bearing”on the horse’s mouth instead of “appui”, since to those who do not understand French appui will convey no meaning at all,–and to those who do understand French it will convey the false ideas of the necessity and power of the rider to “support” his horse. I promise my pupil every “aid” and “support from” his horse. But I beg him not to think of offering either aid or support “to” his horse. I beg him to believe that the horse carries the rider, and not the rider the horse. But this we will discuss in another chapter. That the horse supports the rider is common sense: that the rider supports the horse is the common error.

In chapter 10, on colt breaking, the author suggests that one should patient, forgiving and put off the dreaded evil: Force.  Furthermore he goes on to suggest that expecting submission  from the colt, or “ seeing no necessity to give up their will to yours” affects motivation or results in “indisposition to go freely forward”.

The whole affair of colt-breaking is an affair of patience, you cannot have too much forbearance: put off the evil day of force. Forgive him seventy times seven times a-day, and be assured that what does not come to-day will to-morrow. The grand thing is to get rid of dogged sulks and coltishness; of that wayward, swerving, hesitating gait, which says,“here’s my foot, and there’s my foot;” or, “there is a lion in the street, I cannot go forth.” This is the besetting sin of colts; and this it is which, on the turf, gives so great an advantage to a young horse to have another to “make play”, or “cut out the running” for him. For this indisposition to go freely forward results as well from their seeing no necessity to give up their will to yours, as from their incapacity to perceive and obey the indications of their rider without swerving, shifting the leg, &c., and additional labour to themselves. All this is spared to the young horse by the follow-my-leader system.

The next snippet is wonderful! The colonel advices that at all costs the colt must not be alarmed and the trainer should refrain from using force. Great advice really! He goes on to suggest that one should gradually…induce familiarity and cheerful obedience, basically to reduce stress caused by separating the colt from his group or band.

Everything should be resorted to avoid alarm on the colt’s side and force on the man’s, and gradually to induce familiarity and cheerful obedience–to reconcile him to the melancholy change from gregarious liberty to a solitary stall and a state of slavery. I should say that he is the best colt-breaker who soonest inspires him with the animus eundi–who soonest gets him to go freely straight forward–who soonest, and with least force, gets the colt without company five miles along the road from home. Violence never did this yet; but violence increases his reluctance, and makes it last ten times longer. Indeed, it causes the colt to stiffen and defend himself, and this never is got rid of. It is true that by force you may make him your sullen slave, but that is not the object; the object is to make him your willing subject. Above all things, do not be perpetually playing the wolf to him; deal in rewards where it is possible, and in punishment only where it cannot be avoided. Be assured that the system will “answer”.

Yes one can use force by  perpetually playing the wolf to him, but this will only lead to a sullen slave instead of a willing subject, the latter being achieved by dealing rewards and avoiding the use of punishment.

It is, no doubt, our duty to create the happiness and to prevent the misery of every living thing; but with our horse this is also a matter of “policy”. The colt should be caressed, rubbed, and spoken to kindly. He should be fed from the hand with anything he may fancy, such as carrot, or apple, or sugar, and be made to come for it when whistled to or called by name.

The excerpts above are taken from:

Hints on Horsemanship, to a Nephew and Niece by George Greenwood

A review of horsemanship in early literature: “The Arabian Art of Taming and Training Wild and Vicious Horses”

Arabs Watering their Horses, oil on canvas painting by Eugène Fromentin, c. 1850 (?), San Diego Museum of Art / From Wikimedia Commons

While doing some reading and research on early horsemanship methods, I came across a little gem of a book written by Kinkaid and Strutzman (1856): “The Arabian Art of Taming and Training Wild and Vicious Horses”. This book is filled with interesting notes and ways to go about the horse, but one should not forget the context in which the book was written. Prevailing worldviews and our understanding of the complexities of life have changed considerably since then, at least in some places.

I especially enjoyed the 3 fundamental principles outlined by P.R. Kinkaid (1856) as follows:

Founded on the Leading Characteristics of the Horse.
FIRST.–That he is so constituted by nature that he will not offer resistance to any demand made of him which he fully comprehends, if made in a way consistent with the laws of his nature.
SECOND.–That he has no consciousness of his strength beyond his experience, and can be handled according to our will, without force.
THIRD.–That we can, in compliance with the laws of his nature by which he examines all things new to him, take any object, however frightful, around, over or on him, that does not inflict pain, without causing him to fear.

Tattersall's Training School (Unknown artist) Image from Wiki Commons

I must admit, I thought the three principles were brilliant! The remainder of the text is equally interesting, and you will find some areas of the text high-lightened. Interesting bits are mingled together with “just so” stories, so be prudent and critical in your reading, but enjoy!

To take these assertions in order, I will first give you some of the reasons why I think he is naturally obedient, and will not offer resistance to anything fully comprehended. The horse, though possessed of some faculties superior to man’s being deficient in reasoning powers, has no knowledge of right or wrong, of free will and independent government, and knows not of any imposition practiced upon him, however unreasonable these impositions may be. Consequently, he cannot come to any decision what he should or should not do, because he has not the reasoning faculties of man to argue the justice of the thing demanded of him. If he had, taking into consideration his superior strength, he would be useless to man as a servant. Give him mind in proportion to his strength, and he will demand of us the green fields for an inheritance, where he will roam at leisure, denying the right of servitude at all. God has wisely formed his nature so that it can be operated upon by the knowledge of man according to the dictates of his will, and he might well be termed an unconscious, submissive servant. This truth we can see verified in every day’s experience by the abuses practiced upon him. Any one who chooses to be so cruel, can mount the noble steed and run him ’till he drops with fatigue, or, as is often the case with more spirited, fall dead with the rider. If he had the power to reason, would he not vault and pitch his rider, rather than suffer him to run him to death? Or would he condescend to carry at all the vain imposter, who, with but equal intellect, was trying to impose on his equal rights and equally independent spirit? But happily for us, he has no consciousness of imposition, no thought of disobedience except by impulse caused by the violation of the law of nature. Consequently when disobedient it is the fault of man.

Then, we can but come to the conclusion, that if a horse is not taken in a way at variance with the law of his nature, he will do anything that he fully comprehends without making any offer of resistance.

Second. The fact of the horse being unconscious of the amount of his strength, can be proven to the satisfaction of any one. For instance, such remarks as these are common, and perhaps familiar to your recollection. One person says to another, “If that wild horse there was conscious of the amount of his strength, his owner could have no business with him in that vehicle; such light reins and harness, too; if he knew he could snap them asunder in a minute and be as free as the air we breathe;” and, “that horse yonder that is pawing and fretting to follow the company that is fast leaving him, if he knew his strength he would not remain long fastened to that hitching post so much against his will, by a strap that would no more resist his powerful weight and strength, than a cotton thread would bind a strong man.” Yet these facts made common by every day occurrence, are not thought of as anything wonderful. Like the ignorant man who looks at the different phases of the moon, you look at these things as he looks at her different changes, without troubling your mind with the question, “Why are these things so?” What would be the condition of the world if all our minds lay dormant? If men did not think, reason and act, our undisturbed, slumbering intellects would not excel the imbecility of the brute; we would live in chaos, hardly aware of our existence. And yet with all our activity of mind, we daily pass by unobserved that which would be wonderful if philosophised and reasoned upon, and with the same inconsistency wonder at that which a little consideration, reason and philosophy would be but a simple affair.

Thirdly. He will allow any object, however frightful in appearance, to come around, over or on him, that does not inflict pain.

We know from a natural course of reasoning, that there has never been an effected without a cause, and we infer from this, that there can be no action, either in animate or inanimate matter, without there first being some cause to produce it. And from this self-evident fact we know that there is some cause for every impulse or movement of either mind or matter, and that this law governs every action or movement of the animal kingdom. Then, according to this theory, there must be some cause before fear can exist; and, if fear exists from the effect of imagination, and not from the infliction of real pain, it can be removed by complying with those laws of nature by which the horse examines an object, and determines upon its innocence or harm.

A log or stump by the road-side may be, in the imagination of the horse, some great beast about to pounce upon him; but after you take him up to it and let him stand by it a little while, and touch it with his nose, and go through his process of examination, he will not care anything more about it. And the same principle and process will have the same effect with any other object, however frightful in appearance, in which there is no harm. Take a boy that has been frightened by a false-face or any other object that he could not comprehend at once; but let him take that face or object in his hands and examine it, and he will not care anything more about it. This is a demonstration of the same principle.


On another note, and the bit in the book that caused me to think of all the Natural Horsemanship methods (old wine in new bottles) that are based on similar precepts and ways, was this (again highlighting is mine):

Powel’s System of Approaching the Colt.

Powell says, “A horse is gentled by my secret, in from two to sixteen hours.” The time I have most commonly employed has been from four to six hours. He goes on to say: “Cause your horse to be put in a small yard, stable, or room. If in a stable or room, it ought to be large in order to give him some exercise with the halter before you lead him out. If the horse belong to that class which appears only to fear man, you must introduce yourself gently into the stable, room, or yard, where the horse is. He will naturally run from you, and frequently turn his head from you; but you must walk about extremely slow and softly, so that he can see you whenever he turns his head towards you, which he never fails to do in a short time, say in a quarter of an hour. I never knew one to be much longer without turning towards me.

At the very moment he turns his head, hold out your left hand towards him, and stand perfectly still, keeping your eyes upon the horse, watching his motions if he makes any. If the horse does not stir for ten or fifteen minutes, advance as slowly as possible, and without making the least noise, always holding out your left hand, without any other ingredient in it than that what nature put in it.” He says, “I have made use of certain, ingredients before people, such as the sweat under my arm, etc., to disguise the real secret, and many believed that the docility to which the horse arrived in so short a time, was owing to these ingredients; but you see from this explanation that they were of no use whatever. The implicit faith placed in these ingredients, though innocent of themselves, becomes ‘faith without works.’ And thus men remained always in doubt concerning this secret. If the horse makes the least motion when you advance toward him, stop, and remain perfectly still until he is quiet. Remain a few moments in this condition, and then advance again in the same slow and imperceptible manner. Take notice: if the horse stirs, stop without changing your position. It is very uncommon for the horse to stir more than once after you begin to advance, yet there are exceptions. He generally keeps his eyes steadfast on you, until you get near enough to touch him on the forehead. When you are thus near to him, raise slowly, and by degrees, your hand, and let it come in contact with that part just above the nostrils as lightly as possible. If the horse flinches, (as many will,) repeat with great rapidity these light strokes upon the forehead, going a little further up towards his ears by degrees, and descending with the same rapidity until he will let you handle his forehead all over. Now let the strokes be repeated with more force over all his forehead, descending by lighter strokes to each side of his head, until you can handle that part with equal facility. Then touch in the same light manner, making your hands and fingers play around the lower part of the horse’s ears, coming down now and then to his forehead, which may be looked upon as the helm that governs all the rest.

“Having succeeded in handling his ears, advance towards the neck, with the same precautions, and in the same manner; observing always to augment the force of the strokes whenever the horse will permit it. Perform the same on both sides of the neck, until he lets you take it in your arms without flinching.”

“Proceed in the same progressive manner to the sides, and then to the back of the horse. Every time the horse shows any nervousness return immediately to the forehead as the true standard, patting him with your hands, and from thence rapidly to where you had already arrived, always gaining ground a considerable distance farther on every time this happens. The head, ears, neck and body being thus gentled, proceed from the back to the root of the tail.

“This must be managed with dexterity, as a horse is never to be depended on that is skittish about the tail. Let your hand fall lightly and rapidly on that part next to the body a minute or two, and then you will begin to give it a slight pull upwards every quarter of a minute. At the same time you continue this handling of him, augment the force of the strokes, as well as the raising of the tail, until you can raise it and handle it with the greatest ease, which commonly happens in a quarter of an hour in most horses; in others almost immediately, and in some much longer. It now remains to handle all his legs. From the tail come back again to the head, handle it well, as likewise the ears, breast, neck, etc., speaking now and then to the horse. Begin by degrees to descend to the legs, always ascending and descending, gaining ground every time you descend until you get to his feet.

Talk to the horse in Latin, Greek, French, English, or Spanish, or in any other language you please; but let him hear the sound of your voice, which at the beginning of the operation is not quite so necessary, but which I have always done in making him lift up his feet. Hold up your foot—’Live la pied’—’Alza el pie’—’Aron ton poda,’ etc., at the same time lift his foot with your hand. He soon becomes familiar with the sounds, and will hold his foot up at command. Then proceed to the hind feet and go on in the same manner, and in a short time the horse will let you lift them and even take them up in your arms.

Boy on a Horse circa 1877 (unkown artist) Image from Wiki Commons

All this operation is no magnetism, no galvanism; it is merely taking away the fear a horse generally has of a man, and familiarizing the animal with his master; as the horse doubtless experiences a certain pleasure from this handling, he will soon become gentle under it, and show a very marked attachment to his keeper.”

The excerpts above are taken from:

The Arabian Art of Taming and Training Wild  and Vicious Horses, by P. R. Kincaid & John J. Stutzman (Published in Cincinatti-Ohio, 1856)

Quick-link to some of our posts:

The social life of feral horses

“Understanding the social structure and organization of animals helps us better define a class of ecological relationships, including those of con-specifics living together.  Description of these relationships is complex and challenging, and analysis of patterns of relationships between individuals of a population a laborious one, entailing extended periods of observation.

Following the work of Rowell (1972); van Schaik & van Hooff (1983), a social structure is considered the composition of a particular group, as well as, the spatial patterns amongst individuals. How a social structure is organized will depend primarily on social interactions exhibited by different group members towards one another, setting the scene within which intra-specific communication takes place, and may include competition, cooperation or even dominant behavior in the acquisition of resources. A resource is an object, substance or energy source required for normal body maintenance, growth, and reproduction (Ricklefs, 1979; Wittenberger, 1981). “Resources are what an organism perceives as life necessities, e.g., food, mating partner, or a patch of territory. What an animal perceives to be its resources depends on both the species and the individual; it is the result of evolutionary processes and the history of the individual.” (Abrantes, 2011)

“The evolution of sociality among animals reflects a balance between the advantages and disadvantages of living in close proximity to conspecifics” (Krebs & Davies, 1993)

Feral horses, Equus caballus or Equus ferus caballus (depending on your inclination),  found in such disparate geographical locations as the Red Desert of Wyoming, the Great Basin of Nevada, the New Forest, or Assateague, have revealed much in the quest for deriving a general social framework for horses. Studies of these horses have revealed many similarities in the modus vivendi of the populations under scrutiny. However we must remember that similarity does not equate to sameness, and we should expect variations in phenotypic expression in relation to a dynamic and changing environment. The social organization of any given species from one region of its geographic range does not necessarily permit us to assume that other populations in different ecological settings, would display the same kind of social organizations (Banks, 1977).

According to Wilson (1975), a group is “[…] a set of organisms belonging to the same species that remain together for any period of time while interacting with one another to a much greater degree than with other con-specific organisms.

Horses basically have two categories of social organization, permanent groups and temporary assemblages (Rubinstein, 1981). These categories will obviously vary as a direct outcome of ecological pressures, mainly but not limited to food, water, predation and reproductive strivings. 

Living in herds provides advantages regarding fitness primarily in relation to avoidance of predators and potential threats through increased vigilance, as many eyes are better than few. Grazers, like horses, must interrupt their feeding for predator detection, lifting their heads to scan for possible danger at the slightest novel stimulus. With companions on the lookout, however, a single animal does not have to interrupt feeding as often and thus maximizes foraging time as well.  Advantages are magnified as living in groups provides ready access to animals of the opposite sex.

Variation in group size will also vary as a result of these ecological pressures. Larger groups deplete food patches quicker (i.e., more mouths to feed) and consequently must travel further to forage. When the travel costs associated with the increase in group size becomes prohibitive (more costly than beneficial), smaller groups are likely to become advantageous.

Geometry of the selfish herd – William Hamilton pointed out that if predators only take one prey at a time during an attack, the best strategy for a prey species would be to keep another individual between oneself and the predator or predators. Furthermore, his paper showed “[…] that even in non-gregarious species, selection is likely to favor individuals who stay close to others”. (Hamilton, 1970)

Most feral horse populations live in groups that inhabit large, overlapping home ranges. A home range is an area within which a horse restricts its activities seeks shelter, food and potential mates (Berger, 1986). More than just a space within which an animal lives and reproduces: a home range is an area where the animal can become intimate with its surroundings (Wittenberger, 1981).

A home range is not exclusive of other groups nor is it typically defended as a territory (Slater, 1999). Home range is, therefore, a descriptive term used to describe the area which an animal occupies during an annual season or a part thereof, “[…] without suggesting the particular means by which the space is maintained”. (Marler & Hamilton, 1966)

Home ranges contain preferential central core areas which vary greatly in size and shape. These areas are those in which horses spend a greater amount of time than others (Linklater et al., 2000). Berger found in his study(1986) that “[…] the defense of core areas or any other geographical region was not observed, and no places were exclusively used”. Furthermore, territoriality in the classical sense was not observed in any of the populations of feral horses studied but one (Welsh, 1975; Feist & McCullough, 1976; Keiper, 1976; Berger, 1986; Miller & Deniston, 1979).

Horses in the Shackelford Banks islands, off the American east coast, where found to defend territories (Rubinstein, 1981), “[…] possibly, due to the abundance of water and other resources which afforded for this strategy”. Instead of finding typical harem or multi-male bands, in overlapping home ranges, “[…], it was found that horses did not even live in fixed membership groups” (Rubinstein, 1981). Stallions were found to form territories that run along the width of the narrowest part of the island where visibility was not restricted, and necessary vegetation was readily available. Territories are areas occupied more or less exclusively by an animal or a group of animals by means of repulsion through overt defense or advertisement (Wilson, 1975).

W. M. Wheeler (1930) believed that the development of the family in addition to a highly developed neuromuscular system is essential to the formation of animal societies. A family is a reproductive unit, so long as its members remain together, it is, in fact, a rudimentary form of society with clear protective, nutritive and reproductive functions, as well as a division of labor in its components.

Although the harem type of structure has been understood as the basic structure of horse society, multi-male stallion bands are more common than one is often led to think. Bands consist of 1-26 mares and their offspring, accompanied by one or more stallions. Up to half the bands in a herd may contain more than one and as many as five stallions (Linklater et al., 1999). The population studied by Berger (1983; 1986) showed that bands found to last over seven months were mainly harem formations (88%) and the rest multi-stallion bands (12%). Miller (1981) found the same general pattern in his study of the Red Desert horses of Wyoming.

Family bands are stable social units. Stallion tenure averaged 2.11 years for twenty-four stallions in the Granite Range (Berger, 1983) but lasted as long as ten years on Sable Island (Welsh, 1975) and on Assateague Island (Keiper, 1985). The composition of adult mares in the band is also stable, with some mares remaining in the same band for life. In the Pryor Mountains of Montana, for example, only 7.6% of adult mares changed bands in a year (Feist and McCullough, 1975).

Natal bands are those into which an individual is born. (Keiper, 1985). Most young animals, male, female or both disperse from their natal bands, leaving the group in which they were born as maturity approaches.

Young males, sons, eventually leave their natal bands between 1-3 years of age, although it has been noted to occur earlier in orphaned foals and an account was described by Keiper (1985) of one Assateague pony foal who remained in his natal band to the age of four.

Most of these dispersed individuals form or join bachelor groups. Bachelor groups are comprised of males that do not form breeding units, either because they cannot obtain or maintain females. These bachelor bands can be made up of between 2 – 18 individuals, Joel Berger found a median group size in his studies of four in mid-spring (Berger, 1986).

Klingel (1975) considered bands found within herds as adaptations to seasonally changing ecological conditions. As the stallion defends his mares rather than territory, the band is not restricted in its movements so it can make use of the best available food from season to season.

It has been speculated by Hoffman (1983) that a population in central Australia where no such organization was found may be an exception to the rule. Following this report, Berger (1986) hypothesized that “where xeric conditions prevail, it seems logical to expect that the band structure would break down because of presumed difficulties males would have in maintaining harems and still meeting the constant stresses associated with water demands.”


Clever Hans the wonderhorse

At the turn of the last century, a horse named Hans was thought capable of complex intellectual tasks such as arithmetic, reading, spelling, telling time and even understanding the German language. Hans, der Kluge Hans, or clever Hans as he is more commonly known, was owned by a Mathematics teacher from Berlin, Wilhelm von Osten. During four years of careful and deliberate instruction, von Osten went to great lengths to educate his equine pupil and understand the horse’s expressions: (…) “his chief mode of expression was tapping with his right forefoot. Hans also expressed himself by means of movements of the head; thus “yes” was expressed by a nod, “no” by a deliberate movement from side to side; and “upward,” “upper,” “downward,” “right,” “left,” were indicated by turning the head in each particular direction” (Pfungst, 1911).

However, Hans counted-out most of his answers by tapping his forefoot on the floor appropriate number of times. Numbers were simply tapped-out, so 7+3 would be tapped 10 times. Von Osten had encoded the alphabet as “A”=one tap; “B”=two taps and so forth, assigning numbers to letters. The horse spelled out answers to questions by tapping its hoof the number of times corresponding to each letter, forming words and sentences. For this task the crafty mathematician had (…) “translated a large number of concepts into numbers.” (Stumpf, 1911) The letters of the alphabet in small German script, where arranged on a chart, with numbers below them indicating the row, and the place occupied by the letter in any particular row. Tones of the musical scale were taught using a small child’s organ with the diatonic scale C^1 to C^2. For teaching colour discrimination a number of coloured cloths were used.

Placards with written words were placed in front of Hans, he would step forward pointing with his nose to any of the words that were required for the answer, at times even spelling words successfully.This was done by the aid of a table devised by Mr. von Osten, in which every letter of the alphabet, as well as a number of diphthongs had an appropriate place which the horse could designate by means of a pair of numbers. Thus in the fifth horizontal row “s” had first place; “sch” second, “ss,” third, etc.; so that the horse would indicate the letter “s” by treading first 5, then 1, “sch,” by 5 and 2, “ss” by 5 and 3. Upon being asked “What is this woman holding in her hand?” Hans spelled without hesitation: 3, 2; 4, 6; 3, 7; i. e., “Schirm” (parasol). At another time a picture of a horse standing at a manger was shown him and he was asked, “What does this represent?” He promptly spelled “Pferd” (horse) and then “Krippe” (manger).” (from Pfungst, 1911)

Herr Schilling, an African explorer with high scientific standing, tested the abilities of Hans. Herr Schilling would approach Hans in his stall accompanied by another person: at Schillings request the second person would intently think of a number between 1-20, keeping the same secret. Schillings would then ask Hans to tap the answer while he withdrew from the performance, remaining absolutely passive. More often than not, Hans would tap the right response even if the response was unknown to Schilling.(Sanford, 1914)

Knowledge of the extreme intellect allegedly possessed by this quadruped, caused much mental turmoil, heated debates, newspaper headlines, attracting the masses and the attention of eminent scholars and scientists alike. A number of explanations for the curious abilities of the “wundepferde” or wonder-horse as he was often called, were suggested by all walks of life including von Osten’s own. The math teacher and proud owner of the wundepferde was convinced that Hans was an educated animal not merely a trained one (Sanford, 1914). After four years of laborious and dedicated education, von Osten had no doubt that the abilities of Hans were due to a thorough education by way of the same pedagogical tools used with school children. The completely opposing view was also suggested, and it was that Hans was merely trained, and his so called answers were only feats of associated repetition with certain conditions serving as cues. Another group smelt fraud, suggesting intentional signalling, a trickery of sorts to fool the masses.Last, but not least, there were suggestions that did not limit themselves to the ordinary sort of explanation, preferring an extraordinary one instead: Response to radiant heat emanating from the questioner; electric apparatus on the ground acting on the horse’s hoof, etc…

Von Osten who had never charged a penny for his demonstrations, was dismayed at the accusation of fraud from the press and appealed to the local school board to investigate the veracity of the horse’s ability as well as the viability of his teaching methods.


The German Department of Education urged by von Osten himself, put together a commission, known as the Hans Commission. This group, led by the Philosopher and Psychologist Professor Carl Stumpf, were called together to investigate (…) ” whether or not there is involved in the feats of the horse of Mr. von Osten anything of the nature of tricks, that is, intentional influence or aid, on the part of the questioner.” (Pfungst, 1911) The Hans Commission was comprised of a Circus Manager (Paul Busch), a Count (Otto zu Castell-Rüdenhausen), Teachers (Dr. A. Grabow; Robert Hahn), Zoologists (Dr. Ludwig Heck; Dr. Oscar Heinroth) a Veterinarian (Dr. Miessner), retired Military (Major F. W. von Keller; Major General Th. Köring) and Physiologist (Prof. Nagel), amongst some others.

Regardless of the questions the multi-disciplinary commission presented Clever Hans, the horse was able to correctly answer. The commission had no choice but to inform the masses and the media, that no trickery was involved in the feats of the ever cleverest Hans. However the actual origin of the abilities of Hans were not tackled, and they suggested the likeliness that other factors were involved, which ought to be carefully investigated. It was at this point that Stumpf assigned the task of further investigation to his student Oskar Pfungst.

Following the September, 1904 commissions findings The New York Times ran an article on Clever Hans – Berlin’s Wonderful Horse: He Can Do Almost Everything but Talk – How was he taught? The popularity of Clever Hans was now an international sensation attracting even more interest than before.


Dr. E. von Hornbostel, Mr. O. Pfungst and Professor Stumpf investigated the likely origins of the “clever” accomplishments of Hans, through an experimental method. Hans was questioned in a variety of ways and the experimental set-up was modified several times. Hans failed in his responses whenever the solution of the problem that was given him was unknown to any of those present. When objects to be counted or numbers written on a paper where placed before Hans, he failed in response if either the examiner or anyone else had not seen the objects or the numbers scribbled on the paper.

It was thus clear that Hans needed visual aid to solve the problems. If Hans was not in sight of person and especially the questioner, to whom the solutions were known, he gave an incorrect reply. These visual aids which guided Hans, need not be given intentionally. To explain the outcome of the investigation, it was suggested by Stumpf (1911) that the horse had learned to closely attend to the slight unconscious changes in bodily posture of Von Osten, whilst tapping with the forefoot.
“The motive for this direction and straining of attention was the regular reward in the form of carrots bread, which attended it. This unexpected kind of independent activity and the certainty and precision of the perception of minimal movements thus attained, are astounding in the highest degree.” (Stumpf, 1911)

“The movements which call forth the horse’s reaction, are so extremely slight in the case of Mr. von Osten, that it is easily comprehensible how it was possible that they should escape the notice even of practised observers. Mr. Pfungst, however, whose previous laboratory experience had made him keen in the perception of visual stimuli of slightest duration and extent, succeeded in recognizing in Mr. von Osten the different kinds of movements which were the basis of the various accomplishments of the horse. Furthermore, he succeeded in controlling his own movements, (of which he had hitherto been unconscious), in the presence of the horse, and finally became so proficient that he could replace these unintentional
movements by intentional ones. He can now call forth at will all the various reactions of the horse by making the proper kind of voluntary movements, without asking the relevant question or giving any sort of command. But Mr. Pfungst meets with the same success when he does not attend to the movements to be made, but rather focuses, as intently as possible, upon the number desired, since in that case the necessary movement occurs whether he wills it or not. In the near future he will give a special detailed report of his observations, which gives promise of becoming a valuable contribution to the study of involuntary movements. Also he will give an account of our tests and of the mechanism of the various accomplishments of the horse. We must also defer, till then, the disproof of certain seemingly relevant arguments in favor of the horse’s power of independent thought.” (Pfungst, 1911)


In the end an explanation was found to the origin of the remarkable abilities of the Clever Hans. Hans had no need for telepathy or even critical thinking: he was using his uncanny perception as a horse to detect even the involuntary physical responses of von Osten as well as that of the questioners. Hans had learned to identify subtle tensing and relaxing of muscles that occur in someone who is anticipating the correct answer. Thus, Hans would tap his hoof until he saw the subconscious twitch in observers who knew he had arrived at the right spot in the alphabet, and there Hans would stop, oblivious to the semantic content of his actions.

Wilhelm Von Osten never really accepted the Clever Hans explanation, so he and his horse continued to put on their math-and-body-language show throughout Germany for some time, eventualluy ceasing their public performances. Wilhelm von Osten passed away in 1909, and Hans was tranferred to a farm and later sold to jewelry tycoon Karl Krall of Elberfeld. Hans was again in the spotlight in Eberfeld and performed with two other horses; Muhamed and Zarif.

Today, the “Clever Hans Effect” is used to describe the influence of a questioner’s subtle and unintentional cues upon their subjects, in both humans and in other animals, to prevent prejudices and foreknowledge from contaminating experimental results.

Thank you Hans, you clever boy!

Our horses are, as a rule, sentenced to an especially dull mode of life. Chained in stalls (and usually dark stalls at that) during three-fourths of their lives, and more than any other domestic animal, enslaved for thousands of years by reins and whip, they have become estranged from their natural impulses, and owing to continued confinement they may perhaps have suffered even in their sensory life. A gregarious animal, yet kept constantly in isolation, intended by nature to range over vast areas, yet confined to his narrow courtyard, and deprived of opportunity for sexual activity,—he has been forced by a process of education to develop along lines quite opposite to his native characteristics. Nevertheless, I believe that it is very doubtful if it would have been possible by other methods, even, to call forth in the horse the ability to think. Presumably, however, it might be possible, under conditions and with methods of instruction more in accord with the life-needs of the horse, to awaken in a fuller measure those mental activities which would be called into play to meet those needs.
(Pfungst, 1911)

Feral creoles

I have put together short video clips and photos from our Los Llanos (Venezuela) expedition-2011 into a mini recompilation.


The song  ‘The Great Plain‘ is from the Tubular Bells II (1992) album, by Mike Oldfield.