iPads for Horses? Touch-Screen Technology in Equine Research

Touch-screen computers could remove the risk of human influence in research on equine decision-making and actions.
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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

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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