You've seen it before.

When you're on the trails and you're heading back to the barn, your horse seems to anticipate your movements and steers himself down the right paths back to the stable, before you even tell him to.

When you're at the barn, a friend's horse arrives back at the barn, riderless, after your bud fell off on a trail ride.

And when you're watching the news, you hear the stories of horses getting loose and finding their way back to the stable, sometimes even traveling miles to go home.

It's scenarios like this that make it clear that horses are just a little bit more intelligent than we give them credit for. If you dropped me off in the middle of the woods and told me to go home, I'd probably end up in another country before I found a familiar landmark. Heck, my younger sister and I once got lost on a golf course. A golf course. A horse would never be that stupid.

Horses are incredible creatures with incredible capabilities that humans are just beginning to understand. One of the most mysterious things about horses is their ability to sense things that humans can't even sense. The ability to find certain areas again and again (whether it be the barn or a range that wild horses call 'home'), or Map and Compass system, is just one example.

Horses have a special part of their brain that is constantly taking note of their surroundings. It's an adaptation that would come in handy for wild equine ancestors, but doesn't really have a place in today's domesticated horses. Nevertheless, it is still used. Horses taken in information about areas that are important to them. For example, the barn where they live in and the field that they go out in.

Horses also memorize paths that they take when they leave the farm. If you travel to a farm by trailer or take the horse on a trail ride, it will remember landmarks along the way without thinking. They don't have to be physical things like fences and bushes, but can also be smells, sounds, or temperatures associated with different places.

Here comes the "map" part of their "map and compass system". Horses begin to form a mental map in their heads with their farm and certain landmarks. The more often they travel a certain path, the more familiar it becomes. In time, a horse can memorize multiple trails.

Using this combination of sensory information, mental mapping, and memory, horses are able to follow trails they've been on before, detect landmarks, and sometimes even find their way to a familiar farm from miles and miles away.

So next time you're unsure of how to get back to the barn, let your horse lead the way. If you drop the reins and let him take you home, chances are, you'll find your way back. (Either that, or you'll find yourself knee-high in grass. It's a horse, not a GPS, after all.)
                                                      - Emma

P.S. Want to hear the miraculous story of a herd of Icelandic horses that went missing, but found their way home after five months of traveling? Click the 'read more' button below to check it out!

Mayla and Dropi's Story

In Fairbanks, Alaska, twin writers Julie and Miki Collins were looking for horses that were hardy enough to survive the cold climate. The result was starting up an Icelandic horse farm at their home near Lake Minchumina.

On June 23 2012, Julie and Miki went on a country trek with two of their horses, Meyla and Dropi. They set up a campsite that night, tying the horses up, but the two escaped during the night. The Collins twins searched the campsite by foot, listening for cow bells that both horses were wearing, but couldn't find anything. They later flew a helicopter and searched every area in a 1,000 mile radius, but didn't see anything. Julie and Miki thought they'd never see those two horses again, but five months later, in December, Meyla and Dropi were spotted by helicopter only 3.5 miles away.

It is unknown how many miles they traveled alone, but the two horses stuck together. It is estimated that they spent the five months eating the wild grasses on the north side of the Alaska Range. "I think they were slowly working their way back home and they would have made it earlier, except they couldn't cross all the boggy streams," Miki said in a phone conversation after the two horses were found.

Dropi was 24 years old, quite old for a horse, and was very thin when he was found. Meyla, the younger of the two, was in "excellent condition". Both horses survived the endeavor and are now living happily back in Fairbanks with their owners.
                                                                                                        - Emma

Thank you to newsminer.com for the information and quotes for this article.


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    Have you ever wondered why horses seem to have a magical "sixth sense" that allows them to find their way home, even from miles away? Read this and figure out the strange truth!