Animal Cognition

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 187–201 | Cite as

Horses (Equus caballus) use human local enhancement cues and adjust to human attention

  • Konstanze KruegerEmail author
  • Birgit Flauger
  • Kate Farmer
  • Katalin Maros
Original Paper


This study evaluates the horse (Equus caballus) use of human local enhancement cues and reaction to human attention when making feeding decisions. The superior performance of dogs in observing human states of attention suggests this ability evolved with domestication. However, some species show an improved ability to read human cues through socialization and training. We observed 60 horses approach a bucket with feed in a three-way object-choice task when confronted with (a) an unfamiliar or (b) a familiar person in 4 different situations: (1) squatting behind the bucket, facing the horse (2) standing behind the bucket, facing the horse (3) standing behind the bucket in a back-turned position, gazing away from the horse and (4) standing a few meters from the bucket in a distant, back-turned position, again gazing away from the horse. Additionally, postures 1 and 2 were tested both with the person looking permanently at the horse and with the person alternating their gaze between the horse and the bucket. When the person remained behind the correct bucket, it was chosen significantly above chance. However, when the test person was turned and distant from the buckets, the horses’ performance deteriorated. In the turned person situations, the horses approached a familiar person and walked towards their focus of attention significantly more often than with an unfamiliar person. Additionally, in the squatting and standing person situations, some horses approached the person before approaching the correct bucket. This happened more with a familiar person. We therefore conclude that horses can use humans as a local enhancement cue independently of their body posture or gaze consistency when the persons remain close to the food source and that horses seem to orientate on the attention of familiar more than of unfamiliar persons. We suggest that socialization and training improve the ability of horses to read human cues.


Human–horse interaction Horse Attention-reading Position Familiarity 



We thank Jürgen Heinze, Katherine Albro Houpt and Susanne Waiblinger for theoretical support, Knut Krüger for helping with and Charlotte Hemelrijk for further advice for statistical analyses, as well as Julia Scharrer, Tobias Haertinger, Marion Füssel, Gudrun Schneider, Andreas Sailer, Anja Schlecht, Magdalena Schneider, and all the horse owners for the assistance at the tests. We also thank three anonymous referees for their help in improving earlier versions of the manuscript. The study was supported by an excellence grant from the Bavarian Government, by a HWP II grant from the University of Regensburg, and by the Dr. Peter Deubner Stiftung.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Konstanze Krueger
    • 1
    Email author
  • Birgit Flauger
    • 1
  • Kate Farmer
    • 2
  • Katalin Maros
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Biology IUniversity of RegensburgRegensburgGermany
  2. 2.Centre for Social Learning & Cognitive Evolution, School of PsychologyUniversity of St AndrewsSt AndrewsScotland, UK
  3. 3.Department of Agri-Environmental Management, Ethology and Animal Welfare GroupSzent István UniversityGödöllőHungary

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