Horse News

Sable Island Wild Horses Display Human-Like Behavior

Source:  By Jacob Morgan of

“The discovery sheds light on a distinct evolutionary advantage…”


 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever stood in the grocery store, eyeing the checkout counters to see which one has the shortest line?

It turns out you’re not alone.

According to Philip McLoughlin, an associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan’s biology department, wild horses on the Sable Island National Park Reserve off the coast of Nova Scotia do the exact same thing.

“What we did is we followed the horses and how they moved about the island and decided what habitats and areas to feed or forage in,” said McLoughlin. “We found that the horses would select areas in which to feed much in the same way that humans will select lines in which to buy their groceries and checkout.”

In addition to dispersing within a specific area, McLoughlin said the wild horses travel across the roughly 40-km long and 1.5-km wide sliver of land in order to avoid crowds.

“This is just how humans might decide what store to go to if it’s a busy day,” he said. “They might decide to not go to the busiest store and instead go to one a little further away but less busy.”

He added that although this type of behaviour has previously been found in smaller animals and primates, until now it hasn’t been confirmed in large hoof-footed ungulates.

The discovery sheds light on a distinct evolutionary advantage and the implications of overcrowding, he said.

“As individuals become overcrowded, the ability to make movements to maximize your time feeding breaks down,” said McLoughlin. “It’s called density dependent habitat selection. We can predict that it’s strongest at small densities but as you get to an overcrowded situation everyone just starts to scramble around.”

McLoughlin’s research is part of a 30-year study that began in 2007 to map the movements of the approximately 500 Sable Island horses.

The findings of his team were published in the September, 2013 issue of the Journal of Animal Ecology.

Click (HERE) to comment at The Metro

15 replies »

  1. I love hearing stories about the horses of the islands dotted along the East Coast. I hope they remain safe from the hands of human development. Thanks for sharing.


  2. Perhaps we are not all that differences from our four-legged companions? But it does make sense to forage this way, if you really sit down and think about it. 🙂


  3. I just love how humans have to label and study everything in order to give it validity or credibility. Non-human animals would find having to do that absurd. They would rather spend their time living life. The fact that they learn and practice planning and rationalizing-type behavior shouldn’t come as a surprise at all. How do you think they have been able to survive throughout history.


  4. Perhaps in some ways we are alike but in many ways we are a poor example. Seems that is good news about forage since people like the BLM want to say that the mustangs att like cattle or sheep and eat everything, leaving nothing for the other species and blah blah blah.. Humans are destructive to any environment. Let’s hope horses never act like humans.


  5. This is my very favorite horse subject to comment on! The reason being I believe people have been dumbed down to how intelligent, intellectual, compassionate, apathetic, sympathetic, and complex the horse can be is so horse slaughter remains accepted that horse slaughter as an option. They attempt to remove all the logic, reasoning, and socializing aspects to keep us from equating to humanity and thus making it appear as though animals are just simply undereducated, uncaring, livestock without the ability to care for themselves and simply have to be removed from their environment. The opposite is true, in fact, the actual socialization of my own Stallion Hawk’s Bandit ApHC raised to such a level that he actually saved my life from an intruder to our property. The man was armed with a knife and his demeanor was calm even though he had just stabbed his sister on the adjacent property and was needing a get away vehicle. My stallion quickly broke through the fence and then herded me away from the man’s voice in the darkness, then he puffed himself up and began pawing at the dirt on the drive, repeatedly rearing shrilly screaming. He detained the man with our Rottweiler who managed to get out of his pen and come help as well. The cops were stunned to see the man “captured” by my animals. My then Father in Law witnessed the crazy confusion and later recounted repeatedly. The horse KNEW what he was doing. He decided to protect me as one of his own herd. He allowed the man to only come to far, he puffed up to threaten the man without harm, he backed the man down the driveway in an effort to get him away from us and what I found out later the next day the man said the horse knocked the bloody knife from his hand by tapping his wrist with a hoof. The dog then barking, jumped on the man and gently grabbed his hand, leaving only tiny indentations but not causing him harm they held him until the police arrived. So this horse acted out of instincts alone? Well what instinct says to a fully virile stud horse with a brood mare barn next to him instead of in season mares I will go to this person? That was deductive reasoning….I have a horse who drinks his water after the hose has ran for a little while, one who takes his own brush to his sides and legs, the same horse knows the medications he takes by name and one untasty med you say its name and he clamps his lips. When my mother died my blind mare walked up and put her head on my shoulder pulling me closer than ever and held me. When she herself died she waited for me to get home to see her off. She waited and strained to put her head on my lap and rub against me. WE just have to open OUR minds, the horses open theirs when they realize we are NOT closed!


  6. This also brings to mind a horse a man brought to me to train, he laughed a lot about the horse and repeatedly remarked he was a stupid, idiot, deadhead. The horse was totally irregular, unresponsive, and oblivious to anything the man did. So I asked how much for the horse? Not for sale, but waiting patiently over a period of months the “deadhead” dumb horse didn’t learn anything and was deemed useless and I received the phone call I had been waiting on. I bought the horse, the animal looked at me WIDE eyed, he knew, right then something was going on, he turned to me and FOLLOWED me to the trailer, he had refused to ever load in a trailer and walked stiff legged in first try. Then when we got home-he came to life, no spookies, or weirdness just fully animated, the ignorance disappeared, he was inquisitive, intelligent, unafraid, and terribly loving. This was with no training, he READ me, he knew I “understood” him so he opened up. He seemed to understand EVERY word I said, so at the end of the first week, that man was NOT happy, he wanted to buy the DEADhead back, when he arrived to tell me this he was shocked, imagine his surprise when I said the horses name he was the only one in the herd to come running! That he followed me to the barn and allowed me to groom and clip him while we talked with nothing on him, I saddled him up and rode him before the man realized full of life, cantering, easy going horse was the animal HE had sold me! He asked me what was my trick-I simply said, I told him I didn’t think he was stupid! I literally TOLD the horse this, you know, never had a problem again. The man left with a new outlook and patted the horse on the head and said he would rethink his position on who deemed stupid. He muttered something as he left, it would be months before I would ask him what he said that day-he said I admitted to myself that horse was smarter than I was with a college education! I laughed so hard!


    • Thank you for telling your beautiful horse stories, Cynthia. I hope that horse-humbled man, having admitted his ignorance, has decided to go through Equine University and learn from some of the best instructors on this earth.


  7. YES. Yes the gesture of bowing ones head up and down, I’m sure is a trait we learned from horses. In fact we have had major corporations CEO’s come to our rescue to study horse body language hoping to mimic it to gain advantages in negotiating. Horses have been perfecting their language for 50 million years and are far more social and successful then we are at surviving the turmoils of this planet. My horse Nitro as soon as he hears my car would run to the fence for his morning coffee. I’m sure 10 exactly sounding cars (Dodge Diesel) would go buy before I did, yet he waited for mine. He would wienie from his stall as soon as he he heard my foot steps, no one else’s. Wouldn’t all of us like to be a horse just for a while to experience their knowledge?


  8. WE are the ones who have to learn to listen and tune in.
    Listening to the voices of wise and sentient beings

    Rosalyn W. Berne, Ph.D. explores the intersecting realms between emerging technologies, science, fiction and myth, and between the human and non-human worlds. As a university professor she writes and teaches about engineering and technology in society and the ethical implications of technological development, often using science fiction material in her classes. In her personal life she continues to discover the transformational nature of human-equine relationships, and offers facilitation and translation services for enhancing communication between horses and their owners. She is author of Nanotalk: Conversations with Scientists And Engineers About Ethics, Meaning, and Belief in the Development of Nanotechnology (Erlbaum Press, 2005) and the novel, Waiting in the Silence (Spore Press, 2012). Currently underway, Creating a New World: Biotechnology and Science Fiction brings the non-fictional writing of research scientists together with Berne’s science fiction short stories (forthcoming
    from Pan Stanford Press).


    • Louie, Dr. Berne was on CoasttoCoastam being interviewed. She is very intelligent. My daughter is getting me the book this week in Lexington I hope. It wasn’t available earlier. Also I called in and got in a few words about horse slaughter and our wild horses. She knew about the SAFE Act. I read her biography and she is an amazing person who has succeeded despite some hardships.


  9. I just read the headlines for New York Times and posted on my Facebook and still cant believe it, Ben Shelly is working w former NewMexico Governor Bill Richardson and announcing Tuesday he NO longer supports horse slaughter and ordered round ups be stopped! And they mention the number of 75000 horses may not be accurate, which i have been pointing out at every single opportunity! They r going to attempt to get more accurate numbers which will help with cpntrol and adoption success i have always thought. How can you handle numbers if you dont know what they really are? It takes a strong man to admit they were wrong and to accept change tp move forward.


  10. Barbara, I’m so glad that your call got through the lines on Coast to Coast….that show has a huge fan base and listeners from other countries. George Knapp is one of the regulars hosts there, and when he can, he talks about OUR Wild Horses and Burros and OUR public lands.


    • Thanks, Louie. I was nervous and it took a few calls to get though but we all can do it .Yes, I love George Knapp. Haven’t seen any UFO’s yet though.


Care to make a comment?

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.