Smarts or Coincidence?

We need to talk about Presto’s ability to tell what day it is. Horses can’t really count, right? They don’t own calendars. They have no concept of days.

RIGHT?

I mean, I find him wearing sticks on his head, how could he possibly know what day it is.

But Presto is equal parts adorable and creepy with his ability to tell which day is his ride day. We’ve settled into a routine where it’s always Sunday, unless there’s something special going on (like his Saturday trip to the XC facility). But, ya know… pretty much always Sunday. Sometimes I lunge him on Wednesday, and I usually bring him in and groom in on Saturday, but Sunday is his Funday (do horses classify being ridden as a “funday”? I dunno.).

Anyway, for the past many Sundays, he acts completely different than he does on other days. I always ride Henry first, since it’s cooler earlier in the day, and then go get Presto. And on Sundays Presto has taken to coming up to the fence and staring intently at me, from the second I start untacking/bathing Henry, right up until I come get him. Like he leaves his friends, comes to the fence, and straight up STARES at me. For as long as it takes until I come out there to retrieve him. As if he knows it’s his day and his turn is next. But horses can’t know that… right?

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standing as close as he possibly can while he waits for me

Once I noticed that he was doing this, I started to pay more attention to what he does on his non-riding days. During the week he pretty much never pays me any mind. He will come up to the fence by the arena and watch me ride Henry for a few minutes sometimes, but he never does the staring-at-me-and-standing-by-the-fence-as-soon-as-I-dismount thing. I go out and give him cookies on most weekdays, so if there were days where you’d think he’d be stalking me, it would be those. I don’t even halter him, I just walk out and give him a cookie and leave. But no… on those days he’ll usually walk up and meet me halfway, but he’s never waiting for me and watching me. He doesn’t do it on his Saturday grooming days either.

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stalker

So I started thinking, okay maybe I’m doing something different on Sundays and he’s picking up on it. But… no. I’m at the barn a little earlier than I am on weekdays, but the same general time as Saturdays. I always ride Henry first. There’s nothing different about my routine between the days that I can figure out.

So how the heck does he know? What’s cluing him in to the fact that yes indeed, it’s his turn next? Or is all of this just completely random coincidence (that’s happened at least 5 times in a row now, since I’ve noticed) and it just so happens that he picks his riding days to display this behavior?

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I mean, I’m not complaining. At all. I think it’s really cute that he clearly wants so badly to come in and do stuff and go on adventures. My heart grows 3 sizes each time I catch him staring at me and demanding I come get him. He wouldn’t do that if he didn’t enjoy it. But still, it’s a little odd. The practical side of me says it has to be coincidence of course, right? How the heck would he know? But after so many times in a row… I’m not so sure.

15 thoughts on “Smarts or Coincidence?

  1. Your routine may not be different, but I bet something about your intention/energy is different. Might sound a little woo woo…but horses are pretty perceptive to subtle shifts. Clever guy you got there and the fact that he wants the interaction stimulation is going to make him one amazing partner.

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    1. Was going to comment on an energy shift or something.

      I had a dog who if I was getting ready to go somewhere and was not taking her she’d sleep on the bed until I made her move. If she was going with me I couldn’t move without tripping over her. I tried more than once to write out my steps and find the trigger, never did.

      Even funnier I’d decide midway through my routine that she was going and BAM! she’d show up.

      Critters man.

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  2. They totally know. Tosh seems to get very upset when he knows it’s Tuesday/Thursday for 1 rider and she doesn’t come to the barn, or Sunday and I’m on a different horse. He also really likes to get super dirty the night before those days

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  3. It’s odd the things they know that it seems they shouldn’t know.
    I know a lady who does rescue work, and for years she has been picking up starving horses when law enforcement removes them from a neglectful owner. Sometimes the horses have never been on a trailer; sometimes they haven’t trailered in years. She said she has never had one that didn’t walk straight on to her stock trailer without resistance. She thinks they know they are getting out of a bad situation, even though it’s hard to see how they could know that.

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  4. I swear Choco knows days. I usually take her home on weekends so she can have “adventures” and I swear she knows what day is Friday. I swear she counts that it’s been 5 days and this day is the day that I go with you. She gets mopey Sunday afternoon too, because that’s the time she goes back to my mom’s. I swear Amber knows days when I have a riding routine with her, too. She gets antsy, follows me around, meets me to halter her, gets impatient in the crossties to go out and ride. I swear they KNOW lololol

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  5. If Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover’s Soul taught me anything, it’s that horses are incredibly perceptive! (And wonderful and cute and amazing)

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  6. One of my horses got out of showing three weeks in a row for different reasons. Weird one day lameness, pulled a shoe and got into ants or bees…all they day before the show. I keep telling myself it was a coincidence, but I wonder.

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  7. I solemnly swear I am up to no good. If anyone has mischief managed it is your two horses 🙂

    Everyone laughs at Trinity since Remus KNOWS MY TRUCK when it pulls up and goes to the gate (he doesnt do this with any other truck they watch him). I dont go but a few times a week and he knows when that chevy pulls up hahaha

    Horses crack me up.

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  8. Possibly the Saturday groom day is his clue. You could test it out by grooming him on a Friday and seeing how he behaves on a Saturday (and then report back!!).

    But also, there is good evidence that manta rays off the coast of Queensland know what days are weekends and weekdays. Basically, GPS tagged mantas would depart the docks on Sunday evening after all the recreational fisherman (and the thrown overboard guts and bait and bycatch were gone) and returned on Friday afternoon…. before the recreational fisherman had come back. So, very unlikely that they were being signaled by scents in the water. If mantas can count to five, I bet P(r)Esto can count to seven!

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    1. Maybe so! I don’t always bring him up on Saturdays, or sometimes I lunge him, but it might be consistent enough for him to have seen a pattern. I’ll pay closer attention! Animals are definitely smarter than we give them credit for.

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  9. Makes me think of Clever Hans. As it turned out he was not counting out answers to math problems. He was able to read people’s body language well enough to figure out when to tap and not tap his hoof. If Presto is that aware when you are on the ground imagine how sensitive he is to your micro movements in the saddle!

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  10. Do you think you might be more relaxed or more focused on the weekends?
    Could be that or maybe he’s just at the end of his patience after 7 days and wants attention *now*.
    I do think that we like to discredit animal intelligence though, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he is just this clever.
    Is Henry any different on weekends?

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  11. I think they can definitely pick up on routines — I like the way it’s written from a racehorse’s POV in Horse Heaven, something like: rest day, walk day, canter day, work day, breeze day, rest day, race day.

    It’s really cool that he does that! Love to see a horse that’s eager to be with you and do the thing. 💜

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