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Equine Communication and BehaviorBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · December 26, 2016

An interesting new study showed that horses actively seek human assistance to help solve problems*. Specifically, when horses were faced with an unsolvable task—in this case, obtaining a treat from a food bin they could not open on their own—they would signal the nearby human caretaker to get the treat. Further, horses increased their use of visual cues (quickly looking from the caretaker to the hidden treat locale) and tactile cues (touching, pushing, or pulling the caretaker) when they were under the impression the caretaker was unaware that a treat was hidden.

This study speaks to the remarkable ability for horses to socially communicate, recognize the mental state of other animals in their environment, and probably most importantly, alter the way they communicate with humans based on the horse’s own insight regarding what knowledge humans possess.

Although this may seem to be common sense to many horses owners with strong bonds with their horses, the researchers note that few scientific studies exist that support these views. Further, this study also suggested that “horses may possess a more advanced cognitive state” than we originally thought.

One easy way to potentially boost cognition and facilitate trainability is to supplement with omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). DHA plays an important role in brain development in young animals, making up 10-20% of all fats and more than 90% of the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids found in the brain. In humans, omega-3 fatty acids are used to help brain development, facilitate learning, and support cognitive function in older patients, as well as in patients with head trauma, depression, and stress.

EO•3 is a fish oil supplement and a rich source of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. Developed by Kentucky Equine Research (KER), the compounds found in EO•3 have multiple other proven benefits, including supporting joint health; improving horses with heaves and airway inflammation; enhancing response to vaccination; and, maximizing reproductive health in mares, stallions, and foals.

*Ringhofer, M., S. Yamamoto. Domestic horses send signals to humans when faced with an unsolvable task. Animal Cognition. In press.