See, Then Do: Can Horses Watch And Learn

by | 12.15.2016 | 8:35am

When you notice your horse watching you do specific tasks that are of interest to them, like opening a pasture gate or a stall door, do you ever wonder if they are trying to figure out how you are doing what you are doing? A recent research study that will appear in an upcoming issue of the veterinary journal Animal Cognition says they do.

A team led by Konstanze Krueger, PhD, of the University of Regensburg, in Germany studied 24 horses, performing simple tasks in front of them repeatedly, then watching to see if the horse copied the task. One such task involved opening a feed bin. The team, however, was not sure if the horses were actually copying the behavior or simply understood that feed was in the bin and tried every way they could to get it opened until something worked.

Each horse was kept in his or her home environment for the experiment. They were introduced to a plastic box that contained a small amount of feed and was opened by pushing a white electric switch. Half of the horses could watch a human who was familiar to them open the box several times a day for up to two weeks, up to 120 times total. The control group could not watch the box be opened at all.

Two of the horses in the trial group of 12 who watched the feed box opening demonstration were consistently able to open the container themselves, while eight of them also opened it consistently, but by using trial and error. The control group searched for more contact and interaction from their handlers than with the feed box itself. The researchers also noted that the younger horses were quicker to pick up the skills used to open the feed box than the older horses.

Read more at The Horse.

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