Is Your Horse a ‘Right-Handed Optimist’?

Researchers recently found a link between “motor laterality” and “cognitive bias”; right-sided horses tended to be optimistic and left-sided horses were more pessimistic.
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Is Your Horse an optimist
When a horse lowers its head to graze, the same forelimb is often positioned in front. Which forelimb does your horse place in front? | Photo: Courtesy Dr. Robin Foster

Are you right-handed or left-handed? When you take a step, do you start with your right or your left foot? And does your “motor laterality” reflect the way you think and feel? It appears to in horses.

In a study published in the journal Animals1, Isabell Marr, MSc; Kate Farmer, MA; and Konstanze Krüger, PhD, found a link between “motor laterality” and “cognitive bias”; right-sided horses tended to be optimistic and left-sided horses were more pessimistic. Asymmetry in a horse’s limb use predicted positive and negative thinking, a finding that has practical applications to animal welfare science.

What is motor laterality bias?

A left-handed person could be said to have a left-forelimb motor bias. Horses also show forelimb biases that your farrier might discover from the hoof wear patterns. When your horse lowers its head to graze, the same forelimb is often positioned in front. In this resting state, Thoroughbreds appear to have a left-forelimb bias whereas Quarter Horses are more ambilateral

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Written by:

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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