Is That You? Study Shows Horses Can Learn To Identify Photos Of Other Horses, Sheep

An Italian study has shown that horses can identify images of other horses and sheep when incentivized with food. Drs. Giulia Ragonese, Paolo Baragli, Chiara Mariti, Angelo Gazzano, Antonio Lanatà, Adriana Ferlazzo, Esterina Fazio and Cristina Cravana created an experiment that tested a horse’s ability to discriminate between images of horse faces and headshots of other domestic species.

They used 10 Franches-Montagnes horses, six females and four males, that lived in Palermo. The team created a wooden testing frame with two trap doors that could hold printed images. The horses could push either side with their nose, revealing a treat on a shelf.

The research team used 20 life-sized, color images. Ten were of head-on views of horses and 10 were head-on views of cows, donkeys, sheep or a pig. All of the animals were unknown to the study horses.  The horses were trained to use the boxes and the food reward (oat flakes) was placed on both sides so as not to influence the horse by smell. Only one side of the door was unlocked.

One session consisted of 10 different images and the horses completed three sessions for each phase of the experiment. Eight of the horses were able to distinguish between images of horses and other animals. In the next phase, the horses were asked to identify the sheep instead of the horse; results were the same. The horse was deemed “successful” if he picked the correct image eight out of 10 times in two consecutive sessions.

Though the horses got better at detecting the animal with each session, the time needed to make the decision increased as the trial proceeded. The team determined that the horses in the study were able to tell the difference between two-dimensional images of horses and other domestic animals. However, they were unable to identify individual horses or sheep within the images. The team concluded that the shape of the face most likely drove the recognition.

Read the full study here.

Read more at HorseTalk.

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