Animal Cognition

, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 567–573 | Cite as

Social learning across species: horses (Equus caballus) learn from humans by observation

  • Aurelia Schuetz
  • Kate Farmer
  • Konstanze KruegerEmail author
Short Communication


This study examines whether horses can learn by observing humans, given that they identify individual humans and orientate on the focus of human attention. We tested 24 horses aged between 3 and 12. Twelve horses were tested on whether they would learn to open a feeding apparatus by observing a familiar person. The other 12 were controls and received exactly the same experimental procedure, but without a demonstration of how to operate the apparatus. More horses from the group with demonstration (8/12) reached the learning criterion of opening the feeder twenty times consecutively than horses from the control group (2/12), and younger horses seemed to reach the criterion more quickly. Horses not reaching the learning criteria approached the human experimenters more often than those that did. The results demonstrate that horses learn socially across species, in this case from humans.


Social enhancement Equus caballus Human demonstrator Interspecies-specific learning Social learning 



We thank 3 anonymous referees for helping to improve the manuscript, Richard Byrne, Adam Miklósi, Joseph Call, and many other scientists for discussing the data, many persons for assisting in the experiments, several horse owners for supplying the experiment with their horses, and Martin Schuetz for helping with the construction of the experimental apparatus.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 16 kb)
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Supplementary material 2 (PNG 904 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department Equine Economics, Faculty Agriculture, Economics and ManagementNuertingen-Geislingen UniversityNürtingenGermany
  2. 2.School of Psychology and NeuroscienceSt Andrews UniversitySt AndrewsScotland, UK
  3. 3.Zoology/Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of RegensburgRegensburgGermany

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