Could you be the owner of the world’s next equine Einstein?
The academic foundation attached to the international Long Riders’ Guild has laid down a challenge to Horsetalk readers to investigate equine intelligence.
The offer, through guild founding member CuChullaine O’Reilly, follows the publication this week on Horsetalk of a story about the counting abilities of an Icelandic pony, Skuggi, whose 15-year-old owner, Jónína Valgerður Örvar, taught him some handy maths skills in just three days.
O’Reilly has challenged Horsetalk to select a small group of readers from around the globe willing to read a book revealing the general thrust of the training techniques from a century ago of one of the world’s most controversial horse trainers, German businessman Karl Krall, and apply his techniques.
The foundation will supply a copy of the book to those selected by Horsetalk webmaster Robin Marshall. In return, they must undertake to read the book and try to teach their pony or horse using Krall’s methods within an agreed timeframe. They must report back on their findings to Horsetalk, for the results to be published.
O’Reilly says one of the most startling discoveries revealed to date by the foundation is the amazing demonstration of equine intelligence displayed by the horses trained by Krall.
“Many modern readers will be familiar with the tragic story of Clever Hans, the horse who could apparently communicate with humans,” O’Reilly says.
“The discovery of this remarkable animal, who could supposedly also spell and tell time, caused such an uproar that the German Government appointed the ‘Hans Commission’ to investigate the astonishing claims.
“With the New York Times and other papers anxiously awaiting the outcome, the commission concluded in September, 1904 that no tricks were involved. A sceptical psychologist, however, declared that the horse’s owner was guilty of inadvertently signalling the answers to Hans.
“The result was an impassioned debate, one which resulted in a wealthy German businessman named Karl Krall announcing he had trained three other horses which were smarter than Hans.”
O’Reilly says: “These horses could not only solve complex mathematical calculations and recognise people, he said, they could also transmit the correct answer to questions via the newly invented telephone. Plus, to offset scientific critics, one of Krall’s horses was blind!
“In the midst of this equestrian scientific brawl, the Nobel Laureate, Maurice Maeterlinck, announced he was going to travel from his Belgian home and personally inspect these educated German horses.
“Having been granted complete freedom to test the horses in a variety of ways, he concluded, ‘You rub your eyes and ask yourself in the presence of what new creature you stand. You look for some trace, obvious or subtle, of the mystery. You feel yourself attacked in your innermost citadel where you held yourself impregnable’.”
Was it all a fraud?
“The psychologists, who have spent a hundred years denouncing Clever Hans and Karl Krall’s horses, are still quick to say it was. Yet even their denunciation wasn’t originally unanimous,” O’Reilly says. “In a detailed report, Edmund Sanford, one of America’s founding psychologists, reluctantly admitted that he could not conclusively denounce the horses’ scholastic abilities.”
With the outbreak of World War I it all became a moot point, as the horses were slain and the majority of the original documents were lost to posterity.
After a diligent search, the foundation located and translated one of the few remaining copies of the rare German book which contained Krall’s findings and many of his techniques.
The original story of Clever Hans, as well as Krall’s subsequent activities with the Elberfeld Horses, was placed together for the first time in a small scholastic work entitled “Clever Hans and the Elberfeld Horses.”
Krall’s book consisted of nearly 300 pages, O’Reilly noted.
“It was printed in the early 1920s, during the Weimar Republic, on very inexpensive paper. Moreover, it was written and published using a very old Germanic script which modern German readers no longer use.
“These factors made it extremely difficult for the Guild’s German friend to translate and share the most important parts of the book.
“We were not therefore able to obtain a page by page translation. We relied upon the diligent search done by our colleague to find and share the most important part of Krall’s work.
“We must therefore make it clear that we do not have an exact day-by-day equine recipe here, such as the famous training manual written by Kikkuli 4000 years ago. What we have been able to translate and share are many of Krall’s important ideas, major discoveries, techniques and images.”
What the foundation has yet to discover or locate are Krall’s original notes, if they still exist. “If such an equestrian document exists, and has survived, then it might well be able to tell us exactly how Krall trained the Elberfeld Horses.”
As it now stands, the Long Riders’ Guild Press book has provided everything currently known.
“Nevertheless, knowing that Krall achieved such incredible results, may be enough for others to begin an attempt to discover an equine with similar abilities.”
O’Reilly says the story about Skuggi opens the door to old questions.
“Does humanity have all the answers? Are there any mysteries left to explore in the equine experience? Could today’s stern belief in dumb horses be based on an example of mankind’s species arrogance?
“Nor should we neglect to ask, have we been seeking the wrong answers from our horses?
“Instead of asking a horse to answer a human question, i.e. how many fingers am I holding up, what if it were possible to ask a horse a simple yes or no question that resonated with his life, not ours? For example, ‘Can you tell me yes or no, does your saddle hurt?’
O’Reilly says the foundation’s book is the first modern attempt to re-examine the mystery of Clever Hans and his fellow educated horses. This ground-breaking study includes Maeterlinck’s original eye-witness observations, extracts from Karl Krall’s rare German book explaining how he trained the horses to achieve such remarkable results, and Sanford’s detailed psychological report.
He proposes providing a copy of the book to one horseowner selected by Horsetalk is each of the following regions: Europe, Russia, the Orient, Australia/New Zealand, North and Latin America.
“What is under discussion is simply this,” O’Reilly says. “Who knows more about equines, psychologists or horse-humans?
“The mystery of Clever Hans and Krall’s horses still intrigues equestrian scholars and this analysis will provide vital information designed to reconsider the startling question – can horses communicate with humans?”
Those interested in taking part should first read the letter written to Horsetalk by O’Reilly on behalf of the foundation.
Those interested in taking part should email webmaster Robin Marshall, with the subject line “equine intelligence”.
They should state where in the world they live and indicate their willingness to read the book and try to educate one of their horses using the techniques described. They should briefly outline why they feel they would be well-suited to the project. Participants would be expected to provide a written account of their findings. Please indicate whether you would have the ability to post an online video on YouTube of your efforts.
Participants will be asked to keep their involvement in the project under wraps until such times the findings have been published.