Do Horses Have Muscle Memory?

Species and individuals differ in their genetic potential for quick and coordinated movement. How do horses compare to humans?
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do horses have muscle memory
When a behavior is repeated multiple times, the sequence of actions becomes unconscious and automatic, freeing up attention to learn something else while flawlessly performing the action. | Photo: iStock

Q.I’m pursuing a series of questions that were sparked by a quote: “Musicians must practice until muscle memory sets in, until the brain is free to forget, but the body still clearly remembers.” What does this have to do with horses, you ask?

Do horses have muscle memory? Could they have faster and better muscle memory than humans? Would this help explain why constant repetition can actually reverse progress? Would it be advantageous to a prey animal to have the faster memory? And does it help the human to remember this when working with horses? I have found articles and opinions of muscle memory in the rider but nothing of note for the horse

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Robin Foster, PhD, CAAB, IAABC-Certified Horse Behavior Consultant, is a research professor at the University of Puget Sound in Seattle, Washington, and an affiliate professor at the University of Washington. She holds a doctorate in animal behavior and has taught courses in animal learning and behavior for more than 20 years. Her research looks at temperament, stress, and burn-out as they relate to the selection, retention, and welfare of therapy horses. She also provides private behavior consultations and training services in the Seattle area.

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