You walk into the barn at 10 p.m. for night check, expecting everyone to be sound asleep or munching on hay. But no! There’s your show horse on his tablet. He’s gotten good at this game—he just earned another point, and another carrot.
Is this some a science fiction scenario? Believe it or not, it’s closer to reality than you might think. Japanese researchers have developed and tested touch-screen technology for horses, in which the four-legged players really do earn “points” and hear a noise when they make the right choice with their muzzles on the screen. They also get an automatically distributed carrot.
However, this is not just some elaborate high-tech new stable toy. Touch-screen computers could be changing the way scientists carry out equine research—most of all, taking out any risk of human influence in equine decision-making and actions.
“Clever Hans was a famous horse of the early 19th century that appeared to be able to count and calculate, but we now know he was reacting to unconscious behavioral cues made by the trainer,” said Masaki Tomonaga, PhD, associate professor in the Kyoto University Primate Research Institute’s Language and Intelligence Section, in Aichi, Japan.
“This sensitivity to behavioral/social cues in horses itself should be examined more from the perspective of contemporary comparative cognitive science, but we should carefully avoid such inappropriate responses,” he said. “One of the best ways is to use computer-controlled systems.”
Using the touch-screen system that T