Ladewig, J. 2019. Body language: its importance for communication with horses. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 29, 147-148. (13th International Society of Equitation Science (ISES) Conference Abstract)

Body language is important for communication between individuals. Body language is based on the fact that the thought, alone of performing a known action will activate the motor neurons used for the action, resulting in a slight contraction of the involved muscles. These contractions called intention movements signal what the sender will do within the next second, enabling the recipient to react. This type of communication is important both for animals and for peoples’ interaction with animals. For example in competitive situations the exchange of information prevents physical interaction making life in the social group more peaceful. Domestic animals having frequent contact with people learn to read our body language. Similarly, experienced animal trainers learn to read the body language of their animals. This exchange of information makes it safer and more efficient to work with horses. Body language may also influence results of scientific studies. Research on preferences or cognitive abilities in horses often use choice experiments combined with operant conditioning. Recent studies have thus demonstrated that horses prefer bigger quantities of food than smaller quantities, that they have prospective memory, and that they can communicate with people using symbols. These results may be true but because the experimental horses are handled by people right before they make their choice it is not possible to tell whether their choice is their own or whether it has been influenced by the body language of the handler. To be valid this kind of experiment must eliminate any possibility of human influence.

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