Follow my gaze!
This study set out to investigate whether the posture of a person positioned next to a feed bucket with influence the horse’s likelihood of approaching that bucket.
The horses were presented with 3 feed buckets, one of which had feed in it, and the correct bucket was indicated by a person squatting or standing at the bucket, either looking at the horse or looking away. The question was, would the horse use the person as a so called “local enhancement cue”, in other words, as a clue to the right bucket, and would the posture of the person make any difference.
The assumption was, that the horse would be looking for the food.
However, what happened was that sometimes the horse approached the person either before or instead of taking the food, and if the person was looking away, the horse would often look in the same direction as the person, and ignore the food.
In fact, if a familiar person moved away from the buckets, and stood looking away into the distance, 75% of the horses approached the person instead of the food, and followed the person’s gaze on at least one occasion!
Our conclusion was that food is not necessarily the top motivation, and the more comfortable your horse feels around you, the more inclined it will be to come to you and follow the direction of your attention.
In answer to the original question, the horses are are more likely approach the person in the squatting posture… you can read all the results and discussion in the full article below.
Konstanze Krueger, Birgit Flauger, Kate Farmer, Katalin Maros, August 2010, Animal Cognition doi: 10.1007/s10071-010-0352-7