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Memory like a horse?

By Denise May

Dear Franklin,

If you recall, about a year ago, I taught Titan (draft horse) to ask my attention at a gate by gently bumping it with his nose. He had bent a number of gates by striking them with his pie-plate size hoof.

All I did was point to my nose and say "use your nose", never expecting it to work...just talking to him. After he learned it very quickly I was amazed. He had taken my hand gesture that I used to ask for a kiss and applied the same gesture to a different use. I thought this was an amazing act of intelligence....applied knowledge.

HERE'S THE BIG THING! Because I quit feeding him from the gate, we really never ran into the situation again until recently...almost a year later. I separate Titan and Montana to train them separately...and then together as a team. I guess Titan could tell it was getting close to his turn, so he struck the gate very impatiently. I turned to him and said "Remember? You're supposed to use your nose and tapped my nose. After just a few seconds, he gently nudged the gate and has been doing so every time I ask him.

I find this interesting because sometimes it's easy to wonder why it takes a horse so long to remember something or how fast he forgets it. But....when he discovers something that is obviously in his best interest, he can remember it for a very long time even if the lesson isn't repeated regularly.

What a wonderful testament to the advantage of always finding a way to make the lesson enjoyable and rewarding for the horse.  Also, a good reminder that a horse is capable of more than just mechanically complying to requests. He can think if you give him a chance. It makes me wonder just how often, in an effort to control our horse and to feel safe, that we unknowingly underestimate his mind and need to be mentally challenged.

Love and thanks, Denise