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  • Do horses benefit from human demonstration on how to open a box to find food?

    The behaviour of animals can be altered in various ways. Horses interact on an everyday basis with humans, and some studies suggest that horses can learn new behaviour from observing humans. A group of researchers from Sweden and Denmark investigated whether horses can learn to solve the task of opening a box, by observing human demonstration either by (A) a full demonstration of how to open the box and find the food, (B) a partial demonstration of how to open the box, or (C) no demonstration. The authors studied 30 horses, with 10 assigned to each of the three demonstrations.

    Whilst some horses were able to open the box and find the food, this was not related to whether they had been “shown” how to do it or not. The researchers found that horses that were unsuccessful showed more human- and box-oriented behaviour than successful horses. They concluded that this “indicated motivation to solve the task and/or frustration from being unable to solve the task”.

    "Our study suggests that the horses did not benefit from human demonstration of how to open a box to find food."

    This is not the first study to attempt to understand whether horses can learn to solve problems after watching a human demonstration. Burla and colleagues published a study in 2018. They confronted horses with an obstacle and similar to the study described above, the horses did not manage to get around the obstacle faster when they had previously watched a person do it. But the good news was that the more times they attempted the obstacle, the faster they were able to do it.

    So if you have been trying to learn to jump showjumps like Ayla Kirstine from Norway in the hope that if you do it with your horse watching that they will get the idea, you have probably been wasting your time..... and if you have, please share your photos and videos!!


    Rørvang, M.V.; Nielsen, T.B.; Christensen, J.W. Horses Failed to Learn from Humans by Observation. Animals 2020, 10, 221. HERE

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