A recent study in France has revealed that domesticated horses may be too reliant on their owners.
While we all like to think our horses love us unconditionally, the truth could be that they’re simply not bright enough to survive without us – and according to the research it’s all our fault.
"We hypothesized that horses that are more attentive to humans are dependent on humans' actions for resources such as food to such an extent that domesticated horses are no longer self-sufficient," explained Clémence Lesimple PhD, from the laboratory of animal and human ethology at Rennes university in France.
They decided to put their theory to the test using 46 riding school horses. An hour before their dinner time the researchers put food into a wooden chest in their stable, to see if they could work out how to open it.
There were given three chances, each one three minutes long, to lift the chest lid, and each time they were shown how to open it by Lesimple.
The first time Lesimple lifted the lid she allowed the horse to see the food inside, and then moved it. The second time she let the horse put its nose inside the chest and smell the food, and the final time she let them eat a mouthful.
While most of the horses showed an interest in the chest, only half of them managed to open it. The other half were more interested in the Lesimple, and displayed the most frustrated behaviour such as headshaking, pawing, snorting and ‘vaccum chewing’ (chewing with nothing in their mouth). They also showed more interest in their usual feeding trough.
According to Lesimple this could either mean they did not understand the task and relied upon humans to solve the problem for them, or they had their attention focused on her face and therefore not on the way the chest could be opened.
"These findings suggest that horses with strong attachments to humans could lead to an impairment of problem solving abilities," said Lesimple.