Do horses know their names? 5 facts you should know

Do horses know their names?5 facts you should know

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My friend is a horse foster and I was talking to her the other day about how some horses still respond to strange names. This got me wondering if horses recognised their names. 

I’m sure many of us (including myself) believe that horses comprehend what we say to them, but I wanted to be sure, so I decided to do my own research.

Do horses know their own names? Horses recognise names, but not always in the same manner as humans (or even like the  dogs understand). Horses can be taught to recognise their names, although most will respond to noises or tone of voice instead.

No matter how much we realise that a horse is a horse and not a human.  When we ask if they identify their name, they do. We’re asking if they understand it in a human sense, which is always NO. When it comes to horse sense, though, the answer is unmistakably yes.

A name is just a Trigger

A name is basically just a trigger for a generic “pay attention” behaviour that is repeated over and over again

Depending on their level of activity at the time, the response in my dogs can range from racing towards me to turning their heads towards me to occasionally just flicking an ear towards me. I’d anticipate a horse to react in the same way as a human.

We may not talk to our horses as frequently as we would with a dog or cat, and we may rely more on physical cues rather than verbal signals when training them, which may result in them not developing as strong a response to their names as we would with a dog or cat at times.

They would also not receive as many repeats of the name reinforcement pairing as an animal that lives in its owner’s home, which is particularly important given that many horses do not receive a great deal of positive reinforcement from their humans.

I don’t have a horse of my own(But Love researching and knowing more about horses ), but I used to take riding lessons as a child, one of my Friends has been Fostering horses and I have no doubt that the horses at the riding school were familiar with their riders’ names.

Unfortunately for the horses, it wasn’t so much a cue to “pay attention” as it was a cue to “keep doing that and I’ll punish you.” Each time an instructor called out a horse’s name in front of a group of horses, only the designated horse would react in a scared manner.

How can I tell whether my horse recognises his name?

Horses know their names, as they come to you when you use them, whether you are empty handed or have food or treats with you.

Horses would come to you when called with a  to a collection of calls like Their names and/or “Good Girl” and/or “Come”. 

If your  horse’s  name is the sound made when you have some grain in a can and swish it around, it should be relatively easy to discover if he knows his name.

Seriously, though, as Kaynetoad suggests, all naming conventions (human, dog, horse or rabbit,) all break down to Pavlovian conditioning.

If your horse perks up its ears and looks for the source of the sound when called, then they know their name AND associate it with pleasant things.

If your teenager turns up the volume on their music, when called on garbage day, then they know their name AND associate it with unpleasant things.

So there are really two parts to know  the answer:

  1. Is the association pleasant or unpleasant?
  2. Do you see the associated response when calling by name, without additional stimuli?

Your answers to these questions will allow you to answer your question “How can I tell whether my horse recognises his name?”

How to train your Horse to Recognise his name

You can indeed train them to do so.  

For instance, when renaming or keeping the same name, you can use a high pitched voice and have treats in your  pockets (or in a container). You can  use treats like cut-up apples and carrots ( they Love ’em).

To begin with  hold out the treats and use their name over and over and tell them good girl (or boy) and pat them.

Tell them they’re brave if they’re timid. Now you know they don’t understand the meaning of the words, but they understand your intent.

Also, include pats, snuggles and kisses. It  may take about a week to train a horse to come like that.

They  are a lot like herbivore dogs, but very big version of them ( eh) and harder to teach tricks, but can be just as loyal and affectionate.

Food , affection and patience are the best motivators for horses  to learn anything including  training any animal to come when called.

Using repetition and reward so the association with coming to the owner is a pleasant one.

Horses become difficult to catch if the owner is bad tempered and curses the animal when they can’t catch them easily.

How long does it take a horse to recognise its own name?

To a certain extent, this is one of those topics that can’t really be answered definitively because every horse is different and learns at a different rate.

It may take a few days for some to learn their name (or a new name), whereas it may take weeks or even months for others to learn.

The reason it appears that most horses take a long time to learn their names is due to the manner in which we train them (or, in most cases, do not train them).

When training a horse, we frequently utilise single-word verbal signals such as “walk,” “trot,” “whoa,” and other similar expressions, but we rarely use their names as cues.

Instead, we expect them to learn their names simply by repeating them, but while this method works with humans, it fails miserably with horses. 

The name of the person is frequently used in the middle of a phrase, with a large number of extra words on either side of the ‘trigger’ word.

Most of the time, this results in the horse becoming confused and not comprehending what you’re trying to communicate. 

The most effective (and quickest) method of ensuring that your horse recognises his name is to train him to do so.

When a horse raises his head and puts his ears forward in response to you calling him its a sign he knows his name.

When using the same bit on many horses, there are two things to consider: the fit of the bit and any health issues that the horse may be experiencing.

When it comes to the fit, it’s critical that it’s comfortable for both horses and doesn’t pinch at any point during the ride. 

Having said that, if one of the horses is suffering from an infectious health problem, they will be able to spread it to the other horses that are using the same mouthpiece.

With this in mind, it is possible to reuse the same section, but it is not recommended.

Are Horses Aware of Their Owners?

Is there a difference in how a horse reacts to being called his name by his  “his Owner” versus a stranger?

According to the findings of a recent French study, horses know individual persons using aural and visual information, and they expect certain responses from those people based on previous experience.

According to a very old study, horses were able to distinguish between people based on their facial traits as well as their attire.

In a number of more recent investigations, it has been demonstrated that horses are able to distinguish between whether an audio recording of a voice and the sight of familiar handlers match; that is, when the voice recording is from a different person than the one who is shown to the horse.

Due to the fact that the horses were challenged to combine numerous sensory inputs, this is referred described as “cross-modal recognition.” 

By the way, this appears to be true when researchers investigated the subject of whether horses identify and distinguish between familiar horse herd-mates, which they did in their study.

Horses tend to notice whether the recorded horse vocalisations that are played for them and the visual look of the horse that is actually presented are in sync.

For more about horses see our other articles below

    Colin Parker loves Pets! Colin is an animal lover. She loves caring for and sharing her knowledge of all kinds of pets. Her Love for pets made her Join the pet paws hub Team, to share knowledge with the world.
    Colin ParkerPet Lifestyle Blogger

    Do horses know their names? 5 facts you should know

    About the Author:

    Jennifer W loves Pets! She is an animal lover. She loves caring for and sharing her knowledge of all kinds of pets.

    Her Love for pets made her Join the pet paws hub Team, to share knowledge with the world.

    Jennifer WDog Behavioural Consultant

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