Saturday, August 10, 2013

Blessi and the Equine Social Intelligence Test

Several years ago, Blessi was at liberty in the arena as I was setting up some cones for an exercise in riding trot. Spontaneously, he started doing bows, carrot stretches (or kiss the stirrups), and “smiles.” I had some carrots in my pocket and he was trying to earn his carrots by spontaneously offering behavior that had been rewarded in the past. We had not worked on any “trick training” in well over a year so I started wondering if Blessi was “making a suggestion.” (And, yes, he got lots of carrots for his initiative.)

We have already worked on playing a toddler’s piano, tooting a bicycle horn, spinning the pony, targeting, following rolling hula hoops, etc. I really wanted to find a new activity that Blessi would think was fun rather than work and would, of course, involve lots of carrots.

I found a great activity developed and posted by Nancy Nicholson, Ph. D., Woodrow Wilson Fellow 1963, the Equine Social Intelligence Test, described at the link below:

Nancy took the dog intelligence test that involves problem solving and adapted it to horses as a fun--rather than a scientific--activity. Most of the activities involve the horse figuring out ways to get carrots or other treats.

Here is a link to a video of owners putting their horses through the Equine Intelligence test at the Full Circle Dressage, Kentucky:
My first thought was that Icelandics have to be great at this. Here is a report on how Blessi did on the test.
Day 1:
Test 2--Problem Solving or Finding a treat dramatically placed under a bucket.
Blessi went after that treat like a Labrador Retriever goes after his ball. It was about 4 seconds before he had the bucket upended and treat consumed.

Test 7--Short Term Memory.
Place treat under bucket and return in 40 seconds
See results above.

Test 8--Long Term Memory.
Place treat and bucket in different area and return 5 minutes later. Let horse off lead about 8 feet from bucket.

See results above but now Blessi had figured that the game was “Hide and go seek the carrot.” After getting the carrot under the bucket, he proceeded to go around the stable aisle looking for things to upend just in case I had put a carrot there. He picked up and moved several dog toys (stuffed baby, stuffed dinosaur), a lost glove, and other items--looking for additional carrots. I had to call off the test when he started to head towards the buckets filled with grooming items.

Day 2:
Test 3 Alternate: Put treat under bucket, conduct experiment, remove horse so he cannot see what you are doing. Then put out 3 treats under 2 similar type containers and 1 different container, and return horse to area.

I choose to use treats under two green buckets and one black salt block holder turned upside down. Treats were placed on newspapers to keep them from getting mucked up from arena dirt.

Upon being turned off lead, Blessi headed to the salt block holder. It was really hard for him to turn it over, but he tried several different ways, and finally upended the holder. He then picked up the newspaper and shook out all the pages to make sure no treat was hidden. It was probably unfair to use something that looked like a rubber grain tub since he will go to great lengths to explore one of those.

Blessi immediately proceeded to one of the buckets, knocked it over, got the treat, and ate the carrot. He shook out the papers and explored each sheet.

When I set up the test, I hadn’t noticed that one of the barrel racing barrels was closer than the second bucket. Blessi proceeded to the almost 4-foot tall barrel, upended it, and inspected what was underneath it before he went to the second bucket that was officially part of the test. I started laughing so hard that my stomach hurt.

I was going to wait to see if he would upend the other two barrel racing barrels but just then two boarders approached the arena with the intent of riding. I had to quickly clean up the buckets, barrel, newspapers, and other items that Blessi had strewn all over the arena.
As a follow up: I turned Blessi loose in the arena a few days later as I went to get his tack. When I came back with his saddle, Blessi had gone to the far ends of the arena and overturned the remaining two barrels used in barrel racing.
The results of the IQ-test: Blessi scored around 95%. He lost points when I put the towel over his head. He didn’t bother shaking it off since he thought it was another game. This means Blessi did better than most of the dogs who have taken the canine version of the test. I think most Icelandics would breeze right through these tests since most of the items involve finding treats. A harder test would be to prevent them from getting the treat.


SadFalada said...

Absolutely delightful blog! They are fascinating little horses--did you see the footage of the group of Icelandics demonstrating gaits on a frozen pond in Iceland? They were all abreast, a dozen or more, and the ice collapsed, plunging
them all in to mid-chest--they calmly waited, ears forward, while
a local strongman went in and used his knee as a steppingstone for each horse to use-amazing! I'm of Minnesota Scandinavian descent, and am so proud of these terrific little animals! Enjoying your lovely blog tremendously!

Blessiowner said...

Yes, Icelandics are fascinating creatures. I can't tell you the number of stable owners (I board Blessi) who end up starting conversations with "I have worked with horses for 20 years and I never had a horse do ....."
I did see the video of the horses tolting on ice and the ice collapsing in a wave. My heart goes out to the horses and riders each time I see it. I can't believe how calm the horses were either--waiting for people to help.
Do you have an Icelandic? What type of riding do you do?

SadFalada said...

Hello! No, a lifelong horse lover, but only got to associate with them through horsey friends, of which luckily, there have been many--however, I'm not a trained rider, but an intensely interested observer--I'm often amazed at the intelligence horses display (especially ponies) since many horse, and non-horsey people dismiss them as rather dim animals... so glad you saw that video, not a moment of panic among them..I hope the breed becomes much more popular in America!