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Mathematical Horses: Clever Hans and the Talking Horses of Elberfeld

Eccentric Horses in History

Horses have played a significant role in human history. They have been used for transportation, work, and sport for centuries.

However, not all horses have been ordinary. Some have stood out for their unique personalities, abilities, or behavior.

Here are five eccentric horses in history that left their mark on the world. Incitatus: The Horse That Almost Became a Consul

In ancient Rome, Emperor Caligula had a horse named Incitatus that he treated with the utmost care and respect.

Legend has it that the emperor planned to appoint the horse as a consul, one of the highest political offices in the Roman Republic. Although it is uncertain if this is true, there is evidence that Incitatus had a luxurious life.

He was given a marble stable, a jeweled collar, and a staff of servants to attend to his every need. These extravagances were a testament to Caligula’s eccentricity and may have contributed to his subsequent downfall.

Bucephalus: The Legendary Horse With a Bizarre Phobia

Alexander the Great had a horse named Bucephalus that was as famous as its rider. Bucephalus was a massive black stallion of Thessalian strain, feared by all who saw him.

However, the horse had one unusual phobia: he was afraid of his own shadow. According to legend, Alexander tamed Bucephalus by noticing the horse’s shadow and turning it away from him so that he could no longer see it.

From that moment, Bucephalus became Alexander’s favorite mount and accompanied him on his conquests throughout the ancient world.

The Mythical Founding of the Arabian Horse

The Arabian horse has been revered for centuries as a symbol of beauty, loyalty, and grace. According to Islamic tradition, the breed was founded by a supernatural event.

The Arabian horse was born from a lightning bolt that struck a rock in the desert, revealing a child-sized colt with wings. The prophet Muhammad recognized the horse’s divine origins and rode it to Mecca, where the faithful believed it performed miracles.

Today, the Arabian horse is still bred for its unique stamina, intelligence, and beauty. Reckless: The Decorated War Horse That Loved Scrambled Eggs and Beer

During the Korean War, the United States Marine Corps had a horse named Reckless that carried ammunition and supplies to frontline troops.

She was known for her bravery under fire and her uncanny ability to navigate the treacherous terrain of the battlefield. Reckless was also known for her love of scrambled eggs and beer, which she would consume with relish.

She even learned how to open beer cans with her teeth. After the war, Reckless was awarded several medals, including two Purple Hearts, and became a beloved symbol of the Marine Corps.

Rex: The Killer Stallion That Became a Movie Star

In the 1950s, a horse named Rex made headlines when he attacked and killed his trainer, Chick Morrison. The stallion was condemned to be destroyed, but Hollywood producer Jack Lindell saw something special in him.

He bought the horse and trained him to perform stunts in movies. Rex went on to star in several films, including “The Buccaneer” and “The Lone Ranger”.

Despite his deadly past, he became one of the most popular equine actors in Hollywood. Pinto the Wonder Horse: The Horse That Walked Around the United States

In the early 20th century, a horse named Pinto, owned by George Beck, set out on a journey across the United States.

Pinto walked over 11,000 miles from San Francisco to New York City, accompanied by the Overland Westerners, a group of adventurers and storytellers. Pinto became a celebrity on the road and attracted huge crowds wherever he went.

His journey was chronicled in newspapers and magazines and became the subject of books and films.


In conclusion, history is full of extraordinary horses that have captured our imagination and left a lasting impression. From Incitatus, the pampered horse of a Roman emperor, to Pinto, the Wonder Horse that walked across the United States, these equine ‘characters’ have entertained and inspired us throughout the ages.

We can only wonder what other eccentric horses will emerge in the years to come.

Clever Hans and the Talking Horses of Elberfeld

Horses are known for their intelligence, which often surprises humans. However, in the early 20th century, a horse named Clever Hans became famous for his ability to solve mathematical problems, read, and even converse with his owner.

This story is not only fascinating but also raises questions about animal intelligence and communication.

The Horse That Could Read and Count With a Twist

Clever Hans was owned by Karl Krall, a mathematics teacher in Elberfeld, Germany. Krall discovered that Hans could perform various arithmetic operations and even read the time from a clock.

The horse would tap his hoof the correct number of times in response to Krall’s questions. Krall saw this as an opportunity to prove that animals could do more than just perform physical tasks.

However, what made Clever Hans truly remarkable was the fact that he could do all of this without being taught explicitly. Krall believed that Hans had learned through observation and was using his innate intelligence to solve problems.

As news of Clever Hans’ abilities spread, people flocked to see the horse in action. Psychologists and scientists were also intrigued by Hans’ apparent talents and began conducting experiments to test his abilities.

However, some researchers were skeptical and wondered if there was more to the story than met the eye. In 1907, Oskar Pfungst, a psychologist, conducted a series of tests on Hans to determine how the horse was able to solve mathematical problems.

Pfungst discovered that Hans was not actually performing the calculations himself, but rather was reading the subtle cues given off by his trainer and the audience. For example, when Krall asked Hans what 8 + 4 was, the horse would start tapping his hoof until Krall smiled or nodded his head, at which point the horse would stop.

Pfungst found that Hans was able to respond correctly as long as he could see someone in his line of vision. However, if he was blindfolded or if the person asking the question did not know the answer, Hans was unable to answer correctly.

Although Pfungst’s findings may have seemed like they debunked Clever Hans’ abilities, they actually raised important questions about how animals communicate with humans. Hans was not cheating or faking, but rather accurately reading the nonverbal cues of his trainer and audience.

This served as evidence that animals are more perceptive than we initially thought and can communicate with humans in ways we do not yet understand.

The Horse That Could Calculate the Cube Roots of Numbers

Clever Hans was not the only horse in Elberfeld capable of amazing feats. Another horse named Muhamed, an Arabian colt trained by Krall, was said to be able to calculate the cube roots of numbers.

Muhamed was among a group of horses that became known as the Talking Horses of Elberfeld, who could apparently communicate with humans through various mathematical operations. Muhamed, like Clever Hans, caught the attention of scientists who were curious about the horse’s ability to solve complex problems.

Some claimed that Muhamed was initiated into mathematical calculations just a few hours after birth, and that the horse was able to understand mathematical symbols just as humans do. However, just like Clever Hans, it was discovered that Muhamed was not actually performing mathematical calculations, but rather responding to subtle cues given off by his trainer and the audience.

In fact, Muhamed was not even calculating cube roots, but rather solving simple problems such as multiplication and division. Despite this, Muhamed’s abilities were still seen as remarkable and served as a testament to a horse’s ability to communicate with humans.


In conclusion,

Clever Hans and the Talking Horses of Elberfeld may have been famous for their apparent mathematical abilities, but they also shed light on the importance of understanding animal communication. While some may have initially dismissed these horses’ feats as parlor tricks or clever fakes, it was eventually realized that the horses were using their innate intelligence and keen observation skills to communicate with humans.

Even with the truth unveiled, these horses continue to fascinate and inspire people to question how we interpret and understand animal communication. In summary,

Clever Hans and the Talking Horses of Elberfeld were two horses with extraordinary mathematical abilities that astonished their audiences and researchers alike.

However, their apparent talents were ultimately debunked as simply being an example of acute perception and observation of human behavior. Nevertheless, the story of Clever Hans and Muhamed are fascinating and continue to be studied, delving into questions of animal intelligence and communication.

The takeaways present a unique perspective on animal communication and the possibilities of understanding our animal counterparts.


– Were Clever Hans and Muhamed actually calculating mathematical problems?

No, their abilities were believed to be the result of finely tuned perception to human behavior and cues. – Did Clever Hans and Muhamed have any lasting impact on animal behavioral studies?

Yes, their performance and behavior opened up discussions on the interpersonal communication between animals and humans. – Were there any other extraordinary animals comparable to Clever Hans and Muhamed?

Yes, other animals such as dogs, parrots and dolphins have been shown capable of remarkable communication skills with humans.

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