Animal Cognition

, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 229–238 | Cite as

Visual laterality in the domestic horse (Equus caballus) interacting with humans

  • Kate Farmer
  • Konstanze Krueger
  • Richard W. Byrne
Original Paper


Most horses have a side on which they are easier to handle and a direction they favour when working on a circle, and recent studies have suggested a correlation between emotion and visual laterality when horses observe inanimate objects. As such lateralisation could provide important clues regarding the horse’s cognitive processes, we investigated whether horses also show laterality in association with people. We gave horses the choice of entering a chute to left or right, with and without the passive, non-interactive presence of a person unknown to them. The left eye was preferred for scanning under both conditions, but significantly more so when a person was present. Traditionally, riders handle horses only from the left, so we repeated the experiment with horses specifically trained on both sides. Again, there was a consistent preference for left eye scanning in the presence of a person, whether known to the horses or not. We also examined horses interacting with a person, using both traditionally and bilaterally trained horses. Both groups showed left eye preference for viewing the person, regardless of training and test procedure. For those horses tested under both passive and interactive conditions, the left eye was preferred significantly more during interaction. We suggest that most horses prefer to use their left eye for assessment and evaluation, and that there is an emotional aspect to the choice which may be positive or negative, depending on the circumstances. We believe these results have important practical implications and that emotional laterality should be taken into account in training methods.


Horse Laterality Eye preference Emotion Vision 



We would like to thank Christianne Torkelsen for her work in testing the group 1 horses. We would also like to thank all the horse owners who allowed their horses to take part in the tests, and all the helpers for their time and efforts during the testing procedures, in particular Petra Studeny, for her invaluable help in collecting data, organising the testing and taking part in the test procedures, Hal Rock for his tremendous help and support, and the many volunteers who kindly gave their time and energy to assist in this research. We also thank Knut Krueger for his help with the statistical analysis, and Birgit Flauger for her valuable suggestions and input.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kate Farmer
    • 1
  • Konstanze Krueger
    • 2
  • Richard W. Byrne
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Social Learning and Cognitive Evolution, School of PsychologyUniversity of St AndrewsFifeScotland, UK
  2. 2.Department of Biology IUniversity of RegensburgRegensburgGermany

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