Do horses copy humans?
horses show different learning techniques; most used humans for learning the place where a treat could be baited and learned how to open the feed box by individual try and error learning
Two students at Nürtingen-Geislingen University studied learning techniques applied by horses for learning how to open a feed box after observing humans doing so. For the study horse owners demonstrated various body postures and either hand, head or foot use for opening a feed box. The question of concern was whether the horses would copy the observed action or develop own opening techniques.
The study was approved and published by the science journal Animal Cognition after a peer review process. In a nutshell: horses demonstrated different learning techniques. Most used humans for learning the place where a treat could be baited and learned how to open the feed box by individual try and error learning, some adapted to the observed box opening technique over several demonstrations and a few appeared to copy the persons’ action. The latter used the hoof when the person used the foot and used the mouth when box opening was demonstrated with the hand or head.
Also horses appear to be either individual opening experts or precise observers. In any case it seems to be wise to consider precisely what to demonstrate a horse. Otherwise, feed boxes, doors or gates are in danger to be opened by “four legged” observers.
Prof. Dr. Konstanze Krüger
Bernauer K, Kollross H, Schuetz A, Farmer K, Krueger K (2019) How do horses (Equus caballus) learn from observing human action? Animal Cognition . doi: 10.1007/s10071-019-01310-0