The Enigma of Equine Perception: The Case of the Moving Stonehenge

Prepare to enter the fascinating world of equine cognition. Have you ever noticed how horses seem perplexed when familiar objects are moved to new locations? In human terms, it's as if someone magically relocated Stonehenge! Let's take a captivating journey through a story that illustrates this concept perfectly.

A Stroll to Remember

My trusty green warmblood, True, and I have recently started cool-down rides around a sprawling 275-acre ranch - a perfect way for him to unwind and develop trail-riding skills. Our usual jaunt takes us around a 20 to 30-acre field - a soon-to-be arena - where sand and fencing equipment are stockpiled nearby.

True spotted the stacks of steel fence panels and bucking chutes right away, even from 500 yards away. But we didn't venture too close, prefering to ease him into the area gradually. All seemed normal until our subsequent ride.

A Shock in the Field

On this fateful day, True came to an abrupt halt the moment we left the barn. His ears pricked up and his eyes widened, staring at a seemingly tranquil scene. But, the steel panels had switched locations overnight, a fact that astounded True as if Stonehenge had been moved by magic!

Despite my encouragement, True moved cautiously. For him, this was not a simple movement of objects but a haunting mystery that needed deciphering.

Understanding Categorical Perception

This amusing incident points to a fundamental difference between horse and human brains: categorical perception. As humans, when we see those fencing stacks, our brains tell us that the fencing has moved – it’s the same fencing in a different location. Horses, lacking categorical perception, see each object in a new location as a brand new item!

So, in True's mind, the original stacks had vanished, and new stacks had inexplicably appeared in a different location. This natural instinct to shy away from new objects, perhaps potential dangers, illustrates the survival-based reasoning of equine brains.

Unlocking the Equine Mind

We'll see how our adventures in the wide field evolve, as Stonehenge morphs into an arena fence. Enjoy the ride with us, as we unravel the neural wonders that make our equine companions so fascinating!

For a deeper dive into the science of equine perception, check out Chapter 7 of the book "Horse Brain, Human Brain".

Keep Learning

  • The Perfect Flying Change
  • Health Care for the Young Horse
  • The Backward Step
  • Hello, Mares! Preventing Misbehavior

For more immersive experiences, join my talk, "Brain to Brain: Cross-Species Communication between Horses and Riders," at the upcoming World Equestrian Center event in Ocala, Florida. Buy your tickets here: <a href="" target="_blank"></a>

This story was originally published on and is reprinted here with permission.

About the Author: Janet Jones is a specialist in applying brain science to horse and rider training, with valuable insights drawn from her Ph.D. studies and experiences running a successful horse training business.