I think the conclusions of the study is 'spot on'. I think EVERY voice response is a conditioned and learned response - without exception.
I have dealt with many unhandled and little handled horses. They ALL understand body language. I think all of them have to learn which tones and words accompany which actions. The first two voice stimuli I teach every horse is that a 'smooch' means to move. My body language tells them where and how to move. Then, any reprimand is accompanied by an "Ah!" The harsher the sound, the more serious I want the voice reprimand to be taken. They also learn this very quickly. I could train everything just as easily if I used no other voice sounds or cues or responses.
I think this is proven out completely by the fact that many top reiners are totally deaf. Gunner and most of his offspring as well as many other Paint reiners are deaf as a stone. They train just as easily as any other reining horse. Some trainers actually prefer them because they are so totally focused on the trainer and never distracted by crowds no noises.
I asked Tim McQuay several years ago if he had to train the Deaf Paints any differently than his other horses. I asked what he used instead of the 'kiss' to make one turn around faster and the 'whoa' for his sliding stops? He said that he did nothing different. His horses stopped off of body language and they obviously did their spins the same way. He said that the deaf reiners were actually 'lighter' and more 'tuned in' to him than the others.
One the same note, a non-hearing, non-speaking rider can get anything done with a horse a hearing / speaking rider can.
I know that most people do not agree with me, but I am very convinced that voice commands, petting and praise are just distractions and contribute little or nothing to the actual training process. I think they are more for the rider than the horse.
Of course, a horse can be conditioned and taught to understand voice interactions, but it is just one more thing a horse must be taught. It really adds little.
I can see that it is a learned reaction but cannot agree that voice commands are a distraction.
Many, many times a voice command has stopped several incidents with me.
An example I can give is one evening I was bringing in five young, well handled but unbroken horses together.
They were all stood under a tree line and I caught them, led them to the gate when I heard a noise I was familiar with. It was a hot air balloon and sounded very close and low.
Sure enough I just had the gate open and the ballon came directly overhead.
I looked up and the balloonist looked down. He was low enough for me to see that he had brown eyes and I wasn't wearing my specs!
All were worried by this so low over them but, one of the horses wanted to pull away and he was at the back of the others. I immediately scolded "You DARE!" and he stopped, the others immediately relaxed and I led them in with no problem.
Some of this might well have been body language but, as I was being pulled into the others I do not think I could have given the right posture!
I like all my horses to learn verbal commands, it helps when teaching small children on ponies t6hat know what "Walk, trot canter and whoa," means.
I did have one old horse that you could turn loose in the arena and issue commands to 'Trot at A' and he would, He knew all the letters and all the paces and didn't need to have a rider on top to tell him what to do.
Horses learn their names, again with riding school ponies I can call out a pony's name if it is being awkward and it will respond appropriately yet none of the others in the ride will show any reaction.
Another example is when a horse is cast, the voice giving it the command of 'Stand' (which means keep still) it will stop struggling and allow a person to rope its legs to pull it over.
The natural aids are hands, legs, body weight and voice nowadays body language would be part of it too.
I agree that voice is probably a learned reaction but, in my never humble opinion a vital part of a horse's training.