Do Horses Sense Their Rider’s Desires?

This is kind of random…I was reading a recent issue of Science and COnsciousness Review that talked about artificial senses which got me to thinking. If this stuff is right, and we are to count these things as really an additional sense, then it would seem to follow that we have been equiping horses with an artifical sense for their rider’s intentions. But does this sound right?  Does a horse sense that the rider wants to go to the left, or does the horse sense the pressure of the bit and to avoid the pain turn to the left?


  1. I think it´s probably a matter of psychophysics (the study of how physical stimuli can cause psychological qualities)independently of the availability of artificial prosthetics or any peripheral channel to sensation.
    If a complex organism thanks to evolution is not equipped with processing centers it is completly nonsense what exotic can be its stimuli to perception(whithout mention the possibility of brain-enginering or induce plastic neural rewriting)

    That´s remind me the classical case of Otto´s horse that evrybody said can count, when in fact, the horse only was conditioned to respond to behavioural cues of the professor.

  2. Richard Brown

    Hi Annibal,

    The article talked about the fact that the brain doesn’t seem to care how it gets the information. It is suprisingly adept at processing information that it does not currently respond to (the article made a comparison to our having additional unused sensory ‘ports’) So that the person’s brain can be re-wired, by having additional inputs…

  3. Jeremy Pober

    It seems from your remarks that the debate about whether the horse has ‘an additional sense’ reduces to the way we want to describe how the novel type of input is dealt with. Yet this is simply an issue about the machinery we need to posit to explain how the behavior (putatively responding to the rider’s desires) is produced. Further, it seems that what Anibal is saying is that this phenomenon can be explained fully given the sensory apparatus the horse has plus basic associationist principles (which, while any good cognitivist knows can’t explain all mental activity, they certainly can explain a limited set of behaviors). Given that the behavior can be explained without positing any additional apparatus (which is what ‘a new sense’ seems to be), why would we want to posit it? In other words, why would we want to describe the horse as having an extra sense when this description requires unnecessary attribution of cognitive machinery?

  4. In that case, where and what are the limits of neural re-wiring in response to exotic sensory input?:
    a) the possibility to remodelate to anew “bank” of experience and feeling-presence in the world
    b) just we can agree that function and structure are both sides of the same coin, so sensory pathways can operate for the appropiate signals only

    Noë and Hurley´s work on the absolute gap and intermodal/intramodal gap, cortical deference and cortical dominance focus on this issue, but i cannot see so obvious the phenomena in terms of remodelate our brains to new “vistas” just for sense new aditional inputs. We sense the earth´s magnetic field constantly but for that reason we not éxperience magnetic signals or evolve magnetic organs.

  5. Richard Brown

    Hi Jeremy, thanks for the comment.

    Yes, I guess it may reduce to that, but only because we cannot ask the horse what it is like for them to wear the bit in the way that we can ask the person who wears the feelspace belt what it is like.

    I am not sure if I want to say that the horse acquires an extra sense either, though it seems to me that if this kind of Bach-y-Rita stuff is right then we may be forced to say that of the Horse (can we do fMRI to Horses?) But at any rate the reason to think there is more here than either you or Anibal seem willing to admit is that the new senses given to humans are all inputed through the sense of touch and the brain doesn’t seem to care, it still processes the information in the right way, so if the ifo is about direction it handles that, if the info is visual, it handles that…again, all inputed through tactile stimulation. So, given that the bit in the horses mouth is tactile stimultation why shouldn’t we say that all of the conditions for saying that there is a new sense here met? Or, to be clearer, barring further empirical investigation of horses pre and post wearing a bit, there is no reason not to think that the Horses do acquire a new sense in the same way that the people in the article do.

  6. Yes, they aquire a new way of “sensing” the world.
    But no sensory-substitute-device from tactile to sight or whatever, can taps or capitalize any mechanisms beyond the limits of plasticity of our already present “mechanisms”.

    Wittgenstein (1958) said that: if a lion can talk, we would not understand him”

    We cannot scape the way we “use” the information. We have a narrow range to interpret and reason about the world determined by our nature, our given endowments, and ussually impossible to surpass, tough technology sometimes aid us.

  7. Why not one of the most influential thinkers of the last century is not worthy for a quote? her ellipsis and darkness too, aphorisms, especially this, is perfect for my objection that i summoning to you: without available mechanisms, already in existence, for processing information no matter what new exotic sensory information we add, because the present mechanisms are not tune for them (disregarding evolution).

    Lions have some “mechanisms” (cognitve machinery we can say), humans have some other mechanisms and horses other; and all of them sense the world according to their mechanisms ussually, but not always, especialise for some specific range of the reality.

Comments are closed.

Back to Top
%d bloggers like this: