You re­ally can’t neigh­say him

The Observer - - Comment & Analysis - Liam Nee­son

At the New York film fes­ti­val, Liam Nee­son re­counted how on the set of his lat­est movie, The Bal­lad of Buster Scruggs, a horse recog­nised him and be­gan paw­ing the ground and whin­ny­ing. At first, I thought Mr Nee­son was mak­ing a com­ment about his gen­eral level of celebrity and might be un­der the im­pres­sion that all horses recog­nised him. But then I saw that he had worked with the horse be­fore.

An­i­mal psy­chol­o­gists con­firmed that horses can re­mem­ber and re­act fondly to peo­ple they as­so­ci­ate with pos­i­tive mem­o­ries, es­pe­cially where they have been given food. Nee­son said he had talked to the horse and fed it ap­ples.

I like this story on many lev­els. I like it when other species are re­vealed to have more so­phis­ti­cated cog­ni­tive pro­cesses than orig­i­nally be­lieved. Cows can recog­nise friends in the herd, for ex­am­ple. Plus, in this fast-paced world, it is nice if any free­lance col­league re­mem­bers you in be­tween jobs, ir­re­spec­tive of species.

But, still, the real ex­per­i­ment is yet to be con­ducted: if Liam Nee­son was dis­guised as Tilda Swin­ton, would the horse still recog­nise him?

Liam Nee­son on a tour of a New York sta­bles in 2014.

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