Study: Some Horses can Learn by Watching Humans

Researchers confirmed that horses learn socially across species, in this case from familiar humans.
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When you’re at the barn, do you ever feel you’re being watched? Watched, specifically, by a certain quadruped with eyes on the sides of his head? If so, better be careful how you latch that gate, open that feed bin, or untie that leadline. Researchers have confirmed what we’ve all suspected for years: Horses do, indeed, learn from watching their humans.

“(Our) results demonstrate that horses learn socially across species, in this case from humans,” said the research group, led by Konstanze Krueger, PhD, of the University of Regensburg, in Germany.

Specifically, the horses in their experiment learned that it’s possible to open a box of feed by watching humans opening the box, they said. However, the team isn’t certain the horses actually copied what the humans did. Rather, they might have been more determined to try different tasks to figure it out—as if to say, “Well if the human can do it, so can I.”

Krueger; Aurelia Schuetz, a PhD candidate at Nuertingen-Geislingen University, in Germany; and Kate Farmer, MA, of the University of St Andrews, in Scotland, employed 24 horses with at least three months of basic equitation training

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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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