Thursday, November 22, 2012

Horses on Ice: How Smart Are They?

I have a question for my readers who are familiar with horses. 

I understand that horses are reluctant to walk on ice, for the same reason that humans are: it's slippery, and they are in danger of slipping.  Are they smart enough to recognize ice from its appearance?  If you were riding horses in a studio on a surface that looked like ice, but was not (think green screen background on which a frozen-over river has been projected with ice and snow simulated in the foreground), would they be so afraid of the appearance that they would be reluctant to walk across it?  Or do they only respond to actually slipping on ice?


  1. FYI, they don't project on a green screen. They use the green color to mask out the background and mix in another picture where the green was (a.k.a. Chroma Key. They just don't use Blue any more.)

  2. Maybe. I have ridden horses in icy conditions, but never across a sheet of ice, which is what I think you are getting at.

    I have ridden horses in slick muddy conditions, and they obviously remember from ride to ride that mud is slick, and proceed accordingly. I would not say they are afraid, just prudent.

    I would assume that once a horse found out that sheet ice was slick, then he would be wary of it. If it scared him badly (e.g. fell down), he would certainly be frightened of it in the future.

    However, I don't know that he would recognize "ice" in a studio by sight alone. He would probably recognize real ice by several means: sight/appearance of the ice, of his own breath, smell, especially the feel under his feet, temperature of the environment.

    He would also pick up the rider's feelings, so if the rider became apprehensive about the ice, the horse could very well sense that and be worried (not about the ice, but that his human is scared of something).

    That doesn't mean he would not be frightened by "studio ice." Horses perceive danger, and other things, differently than humans and process it differently. I have a horse who has never seen sheet ice (I am in south Texas) but I am sure he would be frightened of it, because I finally figured out that he is frightened of large expanses that have no detail, like sides of barns with no windows or doors, mattresses or tarps laying on the ground, the reflection off of a sheet of water from low sun even tho he just walked thru the water from the other direction. I suspect it looks like a big hole in the universe to him.

    Some fears seemed to be ingrained. Unexpected and haphazard movement is one. Not unusual for a horse to shy at a butterfly and totally ignore a vehicle.

    For new experiences, horses are simultaneously curious (attracted to) and frightened (repelled by). I think the ratio of curious to frightened varies greatly. Small changes elicit curiosity, big changes more fear.

    I used to ride horses in Saudi Arabia. One October, when there was early rain, the horses were terrified to walk out into the parking lot (which was normal) because of all the wide shallow puddles. They balked, backed up, swung the heads up and down to get a better look. Took some time to get them to walk thru a quarter inch deep puddle. Out in the desert we came across a very small instant stream about six inches wide. One horse dumped its rider and ran back to the barn. The rest balked, and finally jumped the stream, clearing it by several feet in all directions.

    Applying this to your scenario I would think a horse would be FAR FAR more scared of being in a studio, where he is surrounded by a totally alien environment, than he would of real or projected ice. If for some reason you want to take a horse into a studio, it is going to take some training. If it is a show horse with wide experience, it might not take so much. I don't think you have much luck getting him to pretend to gingerly walk on pretend ice, tho.

    Good luck with whatever project you have in mind!

  3. OK, so after all that, I think the real answer is that a horse would be "too smart" to recognize fake ice or a picture projection of ice in a studio, but he might find plenty of other things to be afraid of.

  4. Mauser: yes I know that the green screen is the background when filming. I meant that the projection (combining, actually) happens after the filming is done.

  5. It might depend on the horse. I've never ridden on ice, but I was once carried down a precipitous slope by a Norwegian Mountain Pony. I was so impressed that I'd believe that breed capable of anything.

  6. I have known horses that you couldn't lead across a new asphalt parking lot. That deep black of new asphalt made them balk. All I can figure was that they thought it was a big hole and wouldn't go near it.

    As much as I like horses, I'm convinced that most of them are very, very dumb.